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

 

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Preface

 

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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.

 

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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 (i) It tackles issues that have sailed right over the heads of some of the greatest minds in history, and (ii) 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.

 

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.

 

Incidentally, some might be tempted to conclude that the ideas presented in what follows are indistinguishable from the discredited theories put forward by the Logical Empiricists/ 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.

 

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 easily lost -- this is especially so with respect 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 complexity 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 and what the LEM actually are -- 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 on occasion 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 or 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!)]

 

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

 

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As of October 2016, this Essay is just over 125,000 words long; a much shorter summary of some of its main ideas can be found here. I have now written an even more concise summary of one of the core ideas presented in this Essay, entitled Why All Philosophical Theories Are Non-sensical.

 

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

 

[Latest Update: 16/10/2016.]

 

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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) Certainty Based On Language Alone

 

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

 

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

 

(3) Lenin Disobeys Himself

 

(a) Unthinkable?

 

(b) Motion Without Matter

 

(c) Thinking The Unthinkable

 

(i)   Lenin's 'Psycho-Logic'

 

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

 

 (4)  Metaphysics And Language -- Part 1

 

(a) The Conventional Nature Of Discourse

 

(i)   Camera Obscura

 

(ii)  'Dialectical' Atomism

 

(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 Overlap

 

(iii)  Semantic Suicide

 

(iv)  Content

 

(v)   Metaphysical Fiat -- Dogma On Steroids

 

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

 

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

 

(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

 

(5)  Lenin's Rules -- Not OK

 

(6)  Metaphysics And Language -- Part 2

 

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

 

(b) On The Impossibility Of Any Future Metaphysics

 

(7)  Marx Anticipates Wittgenstein

 

(a) Quotations

 

(b) Marx Anathematises Philosophy

 

(8)  What Lies Beneath

 

(9)  Scientific Knowledge

 

(10) Notes

 

(11) Appendix A -- Marx On Philosophy

 

(12) References

 

Summary Of My Main Objections To Dialectical Materialism

 

Abbreviations Used At This Site

 

Return To The Main Index Page

 

Contact Me

 

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

 

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

 

To:

 

(1) Substantiate the 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 hence (derivatively) DM are ruling-class forms-of-thought (Parts Two and Three);

 

(4) (i) Trace Metaphysics and DM (again) back to their origin in early forms of class society; (ii) Connect them with the various 'world-views' directly or indirectly promoted and/or patronised by ruling elites; (iii) Demonstrate that, despite their many differences, there is an identifiable thread running through both; and (iv) Connect both with a servile ideology that found expression in Traditional Thought (Parts Two, Three, and Four);

 

(5) Demonstrate that DM is a third-rate version of LIE (Part Four);

 

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

 

(7) Argue that the defence of ordinary language is a class issue (Part Seven).

 

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

 

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

 

However, many of these ideas 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 assertion advanced by Lenin.

 

Part One: Lenin And The 'Unthinkable'

 

Matter And Motion

 

In MEC, Lenin quoted the following comment from Engels's:

 

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

 

Which we can paraphrase slightly more neatly as:

 

M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.

 

Here, too, is Engels:

 

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

 

Both Lenin and Engels were asserting typically metaphysical statements. Dialecticians will, of course, want to reject that particular allegation, but that repudiation would itself be as hasty as it is misguided. [Why that is so is explained below, and in Note 1.]

 

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

 

Nevertheless, we aren't to conclude from M1a that Lenin was merely recording his own personal opinions. 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. That was because, like Engels, he held the view that motion was "the mode of the existence of matter" -– that is, he believed that matter couldn't exist without motion, nor vice versa. Motion was therefore one of the principal ways, if not the principle way, that matter expressed itself "objectively", exterior to the mind.1

 

For example, we find Engels saying things like the following:

 

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

 

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

 

As we will see, Lenin fully agreed with Engels.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

[M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.]

 

All of which were predicated on the presumed truth of P4:

 

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

 

[More about these and other alternatives, later.]

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

So, evidence alone can't supply the necessity, the inconceivability, or the unthinkability that DM-theorists claim to be able to see here. If not, the question immediately poses itself: from where does they originate? As with other DM-'Laws', maybe they arise from a "law of cognition"?

 

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

 

Be this as it may, the above sweeping allegations might strike some readers as rather controversial, if not completely misguided. In that case, much of the rest of this Essay will be aimed at substantiating and elaborating upon them.

 

Indicative Sentences Aren't What They Seem

 

The seemingly profound nature of theses like M1a is linked to rather more mundane features of the language in which they are expressed; that is, they are connected with the fact that their main verb is often in the indicative (fact-stating) mood. Sometimes, this is beefed-up with subjunctive or modal qualifying terms -- which only serves to create an even more misleading impression.

 

M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

M2: Two is a number.

 

M3: Two is greater than one.

 

M4: Green is a colour.

 

M5: "Green" is a word.

 

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

 

M7: A material body is extended in space.

 

M8: Time is a relation between events.

 

M9: Motion is inseparable from matter.3

 

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

 

Despite this, there are profound differences between them.

 

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

 

The logical difference between, for instance, M6 and M2 of concern here lies in the fact that knowing that M2 is true goes hand-in-hand with understanding it -- and vice versa: understanding M2 is of a piece with knowing it is true. 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 like this.3a

 

On the other hand, it isn't necessary to know whether M6 is true, or to know whether M6 is false, in order to understand it. Indeed, it is a pretty safe bet that the vast majority of those reading these words, if not everyone reading these words, will understand M6 even though they haven't a clue whether or not it is true. So, comprehending M6 isn't the same as knowing it is true.

 

Nevertheless, knowing what would make M6 true, or would make it false, is integral to understanding it -- even if neither of those options has been ascertained as yet, or will ever be ascertained. Again, it is a pretty safe bet that the vast majority of those reading this Essay will be bale to say what would make M6 true, and what would make it false, even if they have no idea which of these is the case. Indeed, they will understand M6 even if they never find out whether it is true, or whether it is false -- or care about ascertaining either.

 

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

 

So, it isn't necessary to know whether Blair in fact owns a copy of TAR to be able to understand someone who asserts he does. In contrast, comprehending that two is a number is to know 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.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Or, indeed, its truth follows from a specific definition -- such as

 

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

 

M9: Motion is inseparable from matter.

 

M2: Two is a number.

 

In that case, it looks like the truth of M9 is based solely on the meaning of certain words, those in P4.

 

Hence, with respect to M2 and M9, meaning and 'truth' appear to go hand in hand -- so much so that as soon as their constituent words are comprehended, the 'truth' of both becomes obvious, even self-evident. The source of their veracity is 'internally generated', as it were. Indeed, that is why the negation (or the rejection) of M9 (or its content, expressed in, for example, of P1-P3) was so "unthinkable" to Lenin and Engels. Plainly, this certainty followed from the definition (in P4) that motion is "the mode of the existence of matter". That particular thought represents the core idea here, the bedrock principle that Lenin and Engels held to be integral to the nature of, and the connection between, matter and motion -- which explains why they asserted it so dogmatically, why Engels declared its opposite "nonsensical", and Lenin pronounced it "unthinkable".5

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

In stark contrast, once more, it is possible to understand M6 without knowing whether it is true or whether it is false -- or even without ever knowing it is the one or the other.5a0

 

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

 

In fact, it is quite easy to suppose that M6 is false (which it probably is). Even if M6 were true, and known to be true, it would still be possible to imagine it to be false (and vice versa). On the other hand, it isn't possible to imagine that M2 or M9 -- but particularly P4 -- are false, not without altering the meaning of key words in those sentences. [Why that is so will be explained below.]

 

M2: Two is a number.

 

M9: Motion is inseparable from matter.

 

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

 

The actual or possible falsehood of M6, on the other hand, doesn't affect the meaning of any of its constituent words.

 

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

 

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

 

However, it isn't possible for anyone who agrees with Lenin to regard, or even to suppose, surmise, or imagine that M9 and/or P4 are false. This shows that there is a fundamental difference between these two sorts of indicative sentences -- one that their apparently identical grammatical outer form conceals. As it turns out, the pseudo-scientific status, and much of the 'plausibility', of metaphysical (or essential 'truths') like M9 derive from just this masquerade.

 

M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.

 

M9: Motion is inseparable from matter.

 

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

 

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

 

[The objection that M1a and M9 in fact express a summary of the scientific evidence to date has been 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 -- or the repudiation of M9 -- would undermine the meaning of "motion" and "matter", and hence would countermand the import the concepts these words express when put in sentential form -- given that the definition of "motion" is that it is the mode of the existence of matter (P4). This would indicate that anyone foolish enough question the veracity or P4 had failed to understand the word "matter" and the word "motion".

 

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

 

M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.

 

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

 

M9: Motion is inseparable from matter.

 

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

 

Certainty Based On Language Alone

 

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

 

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

 

The certainty that M1a, M9 and P1 seems to generate in all those who accept their veracity plainly derives from what their constituent terms appear to mean; the subsequent projection of P1 onto the world, for example, is therefore a reflection of that conviction. If such theses express indubitable truths, who could possibly deny they apply across the entire universe? And that is, of course, why DM-theorists are happy to impose them on reality and regard them as valid in all regions of space and time.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Compare M1a, P1, P4, 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.

 

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

 

M9: Motion is inseparable from matter.

 

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

 

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

 

Theses like these can be found right throughout the history of Metaphysics, but the above considerations help 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 or factual confirmation could provide. Indeed, they appeared to express indubitable, 'necessary truths' about 'God', 'The Mind', 'Essence', 'Being', 'Time', 'Existence', and the like. The truth of Cosmic Verities like these was prior to, and not dependent on, the deliverances of the senses. In fact, theses like these determined the logical boundaries of reality itself -- that is, they express concepts and categories that constitute not just human judgement and thought, but the logical form of the world.

 

In subsequent versions of the same guiding myths, these Super-Truths supposedly delineated the nature of any possible world.

 

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

 

In previous centuries, it was believed that such Cosmic Verities expressed 'God's' thoughts about, or they depicted 'His laws' governing, reality, which meant that Metaphysics was widely seen as an attempt to re-present, or 'reflect', 'Divine Truth' in human thought, and hence it was traditionally seen as an extension to Theology.7 This intimately connected Metaphysics with the rationalisation of the status quo -- and hence with the inequality, oppression and exploitation that fed off it.

 

[More on this in Parts Two and Three of this Essay (summary here).]

 

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

 

[To be sure, an after-the-event appeal to nature might be made in order to illustrate such alleged super-truths, so that they could be sold more easily to the easily fooled -- which is, indeed, what we find dialecticians doing with respect to Engels's Three 'Laws', for example. But that would be the only use to which evidence derived from the material world could be put.]

 

As far as those who propounded them were concerned, Metaphysical 'truths' appeared to be so obvious that few theorists were in any way concerned that they had been imposed on reality. Quite the contrary, in fact; the role each philosophical thesis was supposed to occupy (i.e., a sort of "master key" capable of unlocking the 'secrets of Being') justified the whole sordid affair.

 

Of course, Super-Verities like these had to be distinguished from ordinary, contingent, everyday, hum-drum empirical truths. So, because they looked as if they expressed a set of 'essences' that under-pinned any and every possible world, these Cosmic-Truths were later given a grandiose title: they were "necessary truths".8

 

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

 

In Essay Two (and several others posted at this site), numerous examples were given of dogmatic assertions advanced by dialecticians, which were supposedly true for all of time and space, even though they were in fact supported by little or no evidence/argument --, that is, over and above a superficial analysis of a handful of specially-selected examples, sketchy "thought experiments", and the use of obscure jargon imported from Hegel and other assorted mystics.

 

Traditional Philosophy -- Founded On Distorted Language

 

As Marx noted:

 

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

 

With the above in mind, we are now in a position to see why DM-theses appear to possess such a priori and universal validity. As we have seen, that because they are (i) Based on a radical misuse of language, or they (ii) Depend on a misconstrual of linguistic rules as if they represented substantive features of reality. In short, they confuse the means by which we represent the world with the world itself. The rest of this Essay (and the other Parts of Essay Twelve) will substantiate these seemingly controversial claims.

 

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

 

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

 

M1a, P1, and P4 are just the latest examples of dogmatic DM-apriorism. In common with other metaphysicians, the projection of DM-theses like these onto any and all possible worlds reveals that they are based solely on linguistic and conceptual resources. Since these Super-Theses are 'known' to be true well in advance of supporting evidence, their veracity can't have been derived from anything other than the meaning of the words they contain, and thus on the linguistic rules that supposedly govern them.

 

M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.

 

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

 

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

 

Moreover, the actual provenance of every single DM-thesis -- they weren't derived from a scientific study of nature but from Ancient Greek, Hermetic and mystical Hegelian thought (upside down or 'the right way up') -- lends support to the above allegations. DM-doctrines date back to a time when there was very little, or no, scientific evidence. And, as Marx pointed out, those theories were based on distorted language.

 

Thus, the class-compromised origin of DM-theses means that aprioristic ruling-class ideas and patterns-of-thought have therefore been imported into revolutionary theory -- 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 can't be as metaphysical-, or as DM-theses attempt to depict it.11 There are logical features of language that prevent theorists like Lenin and Engels from saying the sorts of things they clearly want to say about the world, which features won't allow them to 'depict' nature in the ways they imagine they can -- or, rather, they can't do this without collapsing into incoherent non-sense, as we will see. This means that, in the end, DM-theses end up saying nothing at all.

 

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

 

[This 'linguistic segue', as it were, is explained in detail in Essay Three Part One.]

 

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

 

Lenin Disobeys Himself

 

Unthinkable?

 

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

 

M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.

 

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

 

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

 

Curiously, in Lenin's case at least, it is obvious that he must have thought the above words (or what they 'expressed', 'represented', or 'reflected') in order to declare that they were unthinkable! The phrase "motion without matter" must have gone through his head at some point. [The objection that this 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 expressions 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?

 

[I have responded to another counter-claim that this is just hyperbole on Lenin's part in Note 11a.]11a

 

Worse still, if the rest of us can think the offending words ("motion without matter" -- or even "motion can exist without matter"), and understand their content, whenever we read Lenin telling us that we can't do the very thing we must have done in order to grasp his point, we, too, must contradict Lenin in practice whenever we peruse his work. Indeed, the very act of telling us we can't 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 can't avoid disobeying the master every time he or she reads these controversial words.

 

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" can't be thought.

 

Or even:

 

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

 

Or, indeed, from earlier:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

The question is, therefore: Is R2 vulnerable in the same way? Is the allegation 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, for all he knew he could be ruling out the wrong condition -- or, indeed, he might 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!

 

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

 

[This is a brief summary of a much longer argument I have posted below. I also explain what I mean by content, here. See also Note 11a.]

 

Now, if we assume for the moment that Lenin was right, what on earth could he possibly have meant by what he said if it seems that everyone (including himself) could so easily disprove in practice this 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 what it appears to say?

 

M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

But, are even these options (i) faithful to Lenin, or, indeed, (ii) viable to begin with?

 

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.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Indeed, Engels indirectly endorsed this possibility:

 

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

 

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

 

Alternatively, maybe Lenin meant the following?

 

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

 

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

 

M13: Literal motion without matter can never take place.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.

 

Again, it could be objected that in this particular example what has actually changed is the date of the said strike. It is this that has been moved not the strike itself. But again, if it 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, the date is in the future, and doesn't exist yet, even though it has still been moved.

 

Now, it would be little use referring to the altered marks in a diary or on a wall-planner (or anywhere else, for that matter) in order to illustrate the material changes implied 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, can't be so easily erased --, can it?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

[Unfortunately, this restriction would make the temporal quantifier (i.e., "never") in M12 and M13 seem rather superfluous. I will ignore that awkward complication.]

 

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

 

M13: Literal motion without matter can never take place.

 

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

 

M15: Literal motion without matter is unthinkable.

 

M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.

 

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

 

Maybe not.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.

 

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

 

Thinking The Unthinkable

 

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

 

Perhaps, then, Lenin meant the following?

 

M17: The sentence: "Literal motion without matter is unthinkable" is true.

 

[M15: Literal motion without matter is unthinkable.]

 

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

 

Plainly that is because the embedded sentence in M17 (i.e., M15) appears to be false whenever anyone thinks it.

 

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

 

M17a: The sentence: "Literal motion without matter is unthinkable" is unthinkable.

 

Lenin certainly didn't mean M17a. That riposte will be considered presently.

 

Moreover, it seems that M17 itself becomes false whenever M15 is itself 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 can't be done -- it looks like we have to think the unthinkable, thereby making M17 false. In that case, M17 would be true just in case it is false; we may assent to it only if we never allow its content to cross our minds.

 

M15:  Literal motion without matter is unthinkable.

 

M17: The sentence: "Literal motion without matter is unthinkable" is true.

 

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 alleged fact requires that the 'forbidden' words "matter without motion" (or their content) pass through the mind, so it looks like isn't the case that these words can't be thought.15a

 

But, what about the counter-claim that the above confuses M17 with M17a? That objection will be considered 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 also moving in some way, and vice versa. In other words, M17 doesn't imply M17a.

 

M17: The sentence: "Literal motion without matter is unthinkable" is true.

 

M17a: The sentence: "Literal motion 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, conceptually, or 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.]

 

Or, indeed, it is impossible to agree with P1a:

 

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

 

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 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 set of words (or its content), it prompts, or encourages, others to think 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 many centuries. The passivity of matter was a basic principle of Aristotelian Physics.16

 

However, if this alternative interpretation of Lenin's claim is to remain viable (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 perhaps 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 evidence in support of the supposed limits on 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 credulity (which, as we have seen, appeared to undermine itself in the very act of its own confession). Clearly, such asseverations (no matter how sincere) are out of place in what purports to be a scientific or philosophical analysis of matter and motion.

 

In any case, what could Lenin have said to someone who claimed that they could imagine motion without matter, or vice versa? What if Lenin had encountered a latter-day Aristotle? Several examples 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 (i) metaphorical, or (ii) they are deemed irrelevant. But, who is to say that Lenin's use of such words was literal? Or that this is their only correct employment? -- Or even that it is the most natural way to use them? In fact, a rejection of the above counter-examples could only ever be based on Lenin's own lack of imagination (or on that of his modern day epigones) -- or, perhaps, on other criteria which Lenin unwisely kept to himself, as have DM-theorists since.

 

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 ridiculously 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 or linguistic, not psychological, grounds -- especially if to read Lenin each time seems to disprove what he says in the very act of reading it.

 

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

 

M19: This lump of matter is motionless.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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 were "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 is, that immobile matter (or mobile non-matter) is contradictory -- or, rather, that propositions asserting such things imply a contradiction, given other DM-principles. Indicative sentences used to assert that matter is, or can be, motionless 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 do this: 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, but which aren't declared "unthinkable"? Why don't dialecticians tell us that motion, for example, 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 much of a "leap" of imagination to derive motion itself 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", this theory seems to require it! [Indeed, as this suggests it, too.]

 

[UO = Unity of Opposites.]

 

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

 

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

 

Or, so a response might proceed.

 

However, this proffered, hypothetical DM-reply merely highlights the profound confusions lying at the heart of the DM-'theory-of-change', if such it might be called, highlighted here, here and here. The problem is that according to what DM-theorists themselves tell us, it is unclear whether things change because of (a) their 'internal contradictions' and/or 'opposites', or (b) whether they change into these 'opposites', or, indeed, (c) whether they create such 'opposites' when they change.

 

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

 

In that case, if the above objection is "ridiculous", it is only because it makes plain the incoherence implicit 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") can't be what makes an 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.

 

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. In that case, resolute Hegelians must at least be able to think, and actually do think, the illegitimate words (or what they 'represent'), that matter is motionless (at least, in part).

 

In fact, the good news is that there is no need to speculate any further around 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 doesn't imply that motion is fundamentally contradictory 'in itself' (whatever that means!), but that given different reference frames we can picture it in no other way: as mobile with respect one frame, at rest with respect to another, all at once. There is nothing deeply metaphysical about this; it is a spin-off of the conventions we use to depict nature. This socially-motivated fact, though, does give sense to propositions about the mobility (or otherwise) of matter -- for we would currently have no other way of conceiving of movement scientifically except in this way --, even if this doesn't actually make anything move (or, indeed, sustain locomotion), as DM/Hegelian 'contradictions' should.

 

Of course, the thrust of unhelpful conclusions like these can only be resisted on linguistic, or conceptual, grounds. That is, they may only be defused by clarifying what words like "motion", "immobile", "inertial frame", "same time", and "contradiction" should be taken to mean. Naturally, anyone tempted to go down that route would merely end up underlining the fact that Lenin's own ideas are, at best, already 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 DM-'convention' is unlikely ever to be accepted by the scientific community. In fact, we should feign no surprise if his ideas fail to make the bottom of the reserve list of viable candidates scientists might even be inclined to consider.

 

Metaphysics And Language -- 01

 

The Conventional Nature Of Discourse

 

As we have seen, 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 use. But, there are other aspects of language that are less well appreciated (or, rather, they aren't appreciated at all), which means that this slide into metaphysical incoherence doesn't just afflict DM. With respect to Metaphysics in general, this slide is unavoidable.

 

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

 

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

 

It is undeniable that some Marxists have acknowledged the (perhaps limited) applicability of the former corollary -- that language is conventional --, but hardly any (perhaps non at all) have considered the full implications of the second -- that language isn't primarily representational. Certainly Marx and Engels failed to do this, and so have subsequent Marxists. Indeed, much of what they have written on this topic -- especially about 'abstraction', 'cognition' and knowledge -- suggests that the opposite is in fact the case.18a

 

Camera Obscura

 

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

 

The underlying assumption has rarely been questioned (again until recently): that is, 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 observation applies equally well to those who at least give lip service to the idea that the primarily role of language lies in 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', their 'abstractions', with their listeners, 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 coupled with 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, or shared. 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 nigh on thirty years) who even so much as acknowledges this 'difficulty'! Be this as it may, I have devoted Essays Three Part Two and Thirteen Part Three to an analysis of this topic; the reader is referred there for 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 own biographies or the ideological parameters that constrain them. [In Essay Thirteen Part Three, Section (4) onward, we will see that this is certainly true of the approach taken by theorists like Voloshinov and Vygotsky.]

 

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. Several paragraphs merged to save space.]

 

This odd theory -- which transforms ideas into agents and humans 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 then projected it back into each individual skull, re-configured there as the social relations among ideas, or 'concepts'!

 

This resulted in the systematic fetishisation of language and thought, leading to the conflation of the 'objective' world with the subjective contents of the 'mind'. ["Fetishised", since, as we will see, words are seen as the agents, here.] The outer, social world was thus re-positioned in each individual's head, the latter seen as primary, the former as secondary (or non-existent, in some cases!). In this way, the social was privatised, internalised, and hence neutralised. No wonder then that 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! Small wonder, too, that Dialectical Marxists felt they had to invert things once more -- allegedly putting them 'back on their feet' -- all the while failing to note that their theory of language and cognition actually prevents them from doing precisely that.

 

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

 

Given 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', or assorted 'neural nets').

 

The aforementioned inversion (the political and social roots of which will be analysed briefly below, but more fully in Parts Two and Three of this Essay) completely undermines the 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, of course, helps explain why the ideas of the ruling-class always rule.

 

'Dialectical' Atomism

 

Nevertheless, there seems little point arguing that language is a social phenomenon -- its key role lying in communication -- if it is in fact primarily representational (or, if it is representational first, and only communicational second). If that were the case, the social nature of language would be anterior to, if not parasitic upon, its supposedly primary, private 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, they were introduced to explain the supposed origin of language in each privatised, atomised skull, and not just in connection with the 'social contract', or with respect to the economy.

 

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

 

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

 

[That was the point of referring to those Robinsonades, earlier, just as the same worry also lay behind Ollman's comments.]

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Atomistic implications like these shouldn't be lost on those cognisant of the History of Philosophy and its relation to ruling-class interests and ideology (particularly as the latter are represented in thought-forms that have dominated Traditional Thought since the Seventeenth Century -- i.e., ideas that are intimately 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 was conventional, too, which would in turn threaten to undermine its 'objectivity'.21

 

In fact, and as is demonstrable, revolutionaries have in general rejected the connection between the conventional nature of language and the 'objectivity' of science with arguments that 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 that is so will be explained briefly below, but in more detail in Essay Thirteen Part Two. In this Essay I propose only to examine the connection between the above considerations and Metaphysics.

 

Meaning Precedes Truth

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

That is patently false, since no one could even assent to the truth, or assent to the falsehood, of a proposition before they had comprehended it. Indeed, as seems obvious, if they failed to understand it, they wouldn't even be able to begin to find out whether that proposition was true or whether it was 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 (like M6), it is possible to understand them before their truth-status is known:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

M9: Motion is inseparable from matter.

 

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

 

These two options hang together -- i.e., (i) to understand M9 is to accept it as true; (ii) to reject M9 as false is to change the meaning of some of its key terms.

 

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

 

Avoiding An Infinite Regress

 

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

 

So, if the sense of an empirical proposition were dependent on knowing still further truths, on knowing the facts of the matter, or maybe even on some form of ontology, this process or hierarchy of dependency couldn't go on indefinitely. Indeed, there appear to be only two ways that an infinite regress can be avoided (in what follows I have left the word 'truths' deliberately vague so that options aren't closed off from the start):

 

(1) Language users must have, or have had programmed, in their minds, or brains, a set of truths (possibly even rules) not themselves expressed in, or expressible by, empirical propositions; that is, they must have direct access to 'non-linguistic truths', or maybe even rules -- perhaps written in a 'code' of some sort, which would, paradoxically, not be a code, or the above regress would simply kick in again. [Why that is so is explained in Note 25.]25

 

Or:

 

(2) The truths upon which the sense of empirical propositions would depend must be 'necessary truths', whose own truth can't be questioned, and which must follow from the meaning of the words or concepts in which they are expressed, but not from still further truths.

 

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

 

Anyway, option (2) concedes the point 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 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, (2) relies on the fact that meaning is sui generis, and hence that truth is dependent on meaning, after all.

 

With respect to the first alternative, the idea that there could be sets of 'non-linguistic truths' in nature (whether we are aware of them or not) that govern the sense of propositions is clearly -- 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 other of these. In this particular case, it originally traded on the belief that language itself is governed (a) by nature's own 'pre-linguistic ideas' (perhaps those that are lodged in the 'Mind of God', or which are expressed in physical form, somehow), or (b) by physical or natural 'laws' of some sort, and hence that it is the intelligent, or rational, universe (or, indeed, its supernatural cause) that lends to human discourse the meaning it has. As should now seem obvious, this set of theories meshes seamlessly with representationalism, for, given this approach, human beings represent meaning to themselves naturally (or by means of principles 'programmed' into us 'lawfully' by 'God', nature, or evolution). Furthermore, on this view, meaning is induced in human beings individually, as if each one were a social atom.

 

On this account, meaning would be a 'natural', not a social, phenomenon.

 

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

 

In fact, more-or-less the same comment could be made about the idea that language is governed by rules that are genetically programmed into the CNS. This would, of course, make such 'rules' part of the 'rational structure' of the universe, more widely understood, and that idea would only be acceptable if we are prepared to anthropomorphise the brain and view it -- rather than human agents -- as intelligent, or comprised of 'intelligent' neurons that are able to 'communicate' with one another. This further implies that 'intelligent' neurons would decide for each user what their words meant, that latter of which would be capable of mirroring 'intelligent' nature as a result. This view would imply that language, or the rules underlying, were the agents here, and that in turn would be to reify and fetishise the products of social interaction (i) as if they were, or as if they mirrored, the real relation among things, (ii) as if they represented or reflected the real relation between neurons, or (iii) they were those things themselves (to paraphrase Marx, again).

 

[The liberal use of metaphor, neologisms and 'scare' quotes in theories that give expression to this ideological inversion (that nature is the agent while human beings are the patient with respect to the meaning of words) rather gives the game away, one feels.]26

 

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

 

There are however several serious difficulties with 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' (or 'them') which doesn't at the4 same time anthropomorphise nature, or read into it the very linguistic categories it was supposed to explain.27

 

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

 

Finally, but most importantly, another implication of the idea that understanding language is at some point parasitic on truth is that if, per impossible, that were so, paradoxically, it couldn't be so. That is because this way of viewing discourse gets things the wrong way round (i.e., this supposed relation 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 weren't independent of its actual truth-value, then, plainly, the mere fact that a proposition had been understood would entail it was true, or, as the case may be, it would entail that it was false! Naturally, if either 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 obvious). At some point, given representationalism, all indicative propositions would be, or would depend on, a 'necessary truth' or set of such 'truths', which would 'reflect' in our 'minds' how things must be and can't be thought of as otherwise -- i.e., that their opposite is "unthinkable".

 

And, that is why this view of language, knowledge and 'mind' so naturally aligns itself with aprioristic dogmatism, with the idea that fundamental truths about nature are accessible to, and can be derived from, thought alone --, and which can therefore 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 by 'God' (a là Calvin) --, then ultimately, its truth could be ascertained without the need to examine any evidence. All one would have to do is to comprehend an indicative sentence, or its 'concepts', for it to be true.

 

[Naturally, that would make falsehood difficult, if not impossible, to explain; why that is so is reasonably obvious -- and will be elucidated in Essay Three Part Three. However, the answer is hinted at below.]

 

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

 

[One of the above was, of course, the conclusion Hegel drew. It is revealing, therefore, to discover that the same result follows from the alleged 'inversion' of Hegel.]

 

Apriorism and LIE thus go hand-in-hand.

 

[LIE = Linguistic Idealism.]

 

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

 

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

 

In contrast, since the socially-motivated rules governing our ordinary use of language are incapable of being either true or false, they aren't subject to the above constraints. [This point will be explained more fully 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 particular topic will be considered in more detail in Essay Thirteen Part Two.]

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Admittedly, these claims are controversial.35 They appear to imply that science isn't 'objective'. However, that belief is itself based on a misconception. [This topic will be addressed in more detail in Essay Thirteen Part Two.]

 

The above assertions are in fact a consequence of a commitment to the social nature of language. They can't 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 (recorded in M1a) and explain why it is that certain indicative sentences (i.e., in particular metaphysical theses) lapse so readily into non-sense -- and some even follow that with a collapse into incoherence as an encore.36a

 

M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.

 

As argued above, this problem is associated with the use of what appear to be empirical sentences to state necessary truths (or even falsehoods) about the world, for it is this confusion which ends up distorting fundamental features of language, rendering them non-sensical. But, exactly why that is so hasn't yet been explained.

 

The supposed truth of metaphysical sentences seems to follow from the meaning of the words they contain; because of that, Traditional Theorists claim to be able access Cosmic Verities that reflect fundamental features of reality in the 'mind' of anyone who so indulges. 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 entire 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 and/or 'concepts' in the 'mind', by the 'faculty of reason' --, reconfigured these days perhaps as part of the operation of "inner speech", or, even more recently, as once aspect of a 'language of thought'. But, this is a thoroughly bourgeois way of viewing language, thought and meaning, an accusation itself motivated by an earlier allegation that this area of Traditional and Dialectical-Marxist Philosophy hasn't advanced much beyond the ideas concocted by Descartes and Locke.

 

Alas, DM-theorists who argue along these lines have failed to appreciate how such theories undermine their supposed commitment to the social nature of language, meaning and knowledge, just as they have failed to see that this approach to 'cognition' doesn't even deliver what had all along been claimed for it.37

 

Semantic Overlap

 

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 could be entertained. This involved 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 isn't possible to say (in one sense of "say") anything meaningful that is in principle incomprehensible, even to the one saying it. While a speaker might give voice to complete babble, it isn't 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 puzzlement and consternation). One might intend to utter babble, but not intend to mean anything comprehensible by it (if trivial examples like these are put to one side).38

 

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

 

M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.

 

We have already encountered similarly incoherent DM-theses (for example, in connection with 'dialectical logic', Trotsky's attempt to critique 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 explain DM-Wholism, among other things). This regular slide into unintelligibility isn't 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 that purport to inform humanity of fundamental features 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) doesn't 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 doesn't own a copy of The Algebra of Revolution.

 

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

 

For a proposition and its negation to picture or concern the same state of affairs, they must have the same content; this is what connects the two. If this weren't so, they wouldn't be contradictories, for there would be nothing (relevant) that linked them. One of them has to be capable of being used to deny what the other one can be used to assert. 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 obtain.

 

[Of course, what constitutes a specific state of affairs will be intimately connected the proposition 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 were 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 -- or, as we will see, if it seemed to do this -- then the proposition concerned can't have been empirical to begin with.

 

[The significance of that observation will become more apparent as this Essay unfolds.]

 

Consider again the following two empirical propositions:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

If a speaker didn't know that M6 was true (and hence M6a was false) just in case Blair owned a copy of the said book, and that M6 was false (but M6a was true) just in case Blair didn't own a copy of the said book -- or they were unable to tell anyone else what to look for or to expect if they wanted to ascertain the truth-value of M6 or M6a -- that would be prima facie evidence they didn't understand either or both of M6 and M6a. These two 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 these references and much of the rest of this Essay (especially here and Note 45a).]

 

It could be argued that (1) Owning or not owning a book is a complex social fact, and (2) Owning something is a rather vague term. Both of these objections (which overlap somewhat) will be considered in more detail in Note 40a.

 

It is also why it is easy to imagine M6 is true even if it turns out to be false, or false if it is in fact true -- and vice versa with M6a. In general, comprehension of empirical propositions involves an understanding of the conditions under which they would or could be true, or would or could be false. As is well known, these are otherwise called their truth conditions. That, of course, allows anyone so minded to confirm the actual truth status of any given empirical proposition by an appeal to the available evidence, since they would in that case know what to look for or expect.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Which is, of course, why Traditional Theories of knowledge found it hard to account for falsehood. If we represent the world to ourselves 'in our heads', how could anything be false? It is no use replying that we can check these representations against the facts, or against the world, since, if that were so, all we would be doing is checking one set of representations against another. Moreover, relying on the testimony, evidence or argument provided by other individuals would be no use either. Again, if representationalism were true, all we would be relying on here would be representations of testimony, evidence or argument. We have, as yet, found no way of 'leaping out of our heads'.40a

 

[For example, how would the 'contents' of one mind be communicated to that of another if there was no prior means of communication by means of which it might be achieved, 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, or what their words mean, after they had ascertained the truth of what was said? (More on this in Essay Three Part Two, and Essay Thirteen Part Three.)]

 

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

 

Semantic Suicide

 

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 and falsehood.

 

This occurs, for example, when an apparently empirical, or seemingly Super-Empirical, proposition is declared to be "only true" or "only false" -- or, more pointedly, 'necessarily' the one or the other -- perhaps as consequence of 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.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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 the 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 just so happens to be, 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.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

M20: Motion sometimes occurs without matter.

 

M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.

 

Unfortunately for Lenin, in order to declare M20 necessarily and always false (or "unthinkable"), the possibility of its truth must first of all be entertained even if only to be ruled out immediately. But, if the possible truth of M20 couldn't even be entertained by Lenin (howsoever briefly), then that would mean that (i) M20 was incomprehensible or that (ii) even if it were comprehensible, Lenin himself couldn't understand it. Either way, Lenin wouldn't know what it was he was rejecting. As we will see, that would have a knock-on affect on the status of M1a itself

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Consequently, if a proposition like M20 is necessarily false this charade (i.e., the permanent exclusion of its truth) can't actually take place, since it would be impossible to say (or even to think) what could possibly count as making it true so that that possibility could be rejected. Indeed, Lenin himself had to declare it "unthinkable", so he not only couldn't inform his readers what would make it false, he couldn't even think these words (in the sense that he couldn't think their supposed content -- the state of affairs it supposedly pictured -- more on this presently). Hence, because the possible 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

 

M20: Motion sometimes occurs without matter.

 

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

 

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

 

If we are incapable of thinking the content of the following words, we certainly can't think of them as false.

 

M20: Motion sometimes occurs without matter.

 

Content

 

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

 

Our inability to conclude that certain 'propositions', or indicative sentences, are false is in fact a consequence of several of the points made earlier: i.e., that an empirical proposition and its negation have the same content (they express the same possible state of affairs). If one option is ruled out, the other automatically goes out of the window with it, which is what we have now seen happen with Lenin's words.

 

In order to appreciate why this is the more fundamental reason why Lenin's (and other metaphysical) sentences collapse into non-sense, we need to back-track a little.

 

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


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

L2: Time isn't a relation between events.


As we have seen, the alleged truth of L1 is derived directly from the meaning of the words it contains (or the concepts it supposedly expresses), or from other principles, precepts and definitions, which are in turn also dependent on the meaning of the words they contain. It manifestly hasn't been derived from evidence. 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, or conceive of that 'concept'.

 

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 can't represent the same state of affairs. They have a different (supposed) 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.


Whether or not one or both of them is true, L3 and L4 aren't negations of one another since they relate to two different individuals, George W Bush and his father, George H W Bush. L3 and L4 thus have two different subjects. They are true, or they are false, under entirely different conditions since they don't have the same sense, the same empirical content. They express different possible 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 (since they use a typographically identical word, "time"). L3 and L4 are only being used to make this particular point clear.]

The same comment applies in general to all metaphysical propositions (like L1) and what appear to be their negations (i.e., in the case of L1, this is L2).

 

L1: Time is a relation between events.

L2: Time isn't a relation between events.

 

[As we will see, this also applies to mathematical sentences that are also pseudo-propositions -- like the one about four-edged triangle mentioned below.]

 

Why is this important?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

As was argued earlier:

 

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

 

If a speaker didn't know that M6 was true (and hence M6a was false) just in case Blair owned a copy of the said book, and that M6 was false (but M6a was true) just in case Blair didn't own a copy of the said book -- or they were unable to tell anyone else what to look for or to expect if they wanted to ascertain the truth-value of M6 or M6a -- that would be prima facie evidence they didn't understand either or both of M6 and M6a. These two 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....

 

It is also why it is easy to imagine M6 is true even if it turns out to be false, or false if it is in fact true -- and vice versa with M6a. In general, comprehension of empirical propositions involves an understanding of the conditions under which they would or could be true, or would or could be false. As is well known, these are otherwise called their truth conditions. That, of course, allows anyone so minded to confirm the actual truth status of any given empirical proposition by an appeal to the available evidence, since they would in that case know what to look for or expect.

 

So, if we find out that M6a is true, we can automatically infer the falsehood of M6 -- and vice versa. In that case, we can reject M6 if M6a is true, just as we can reject M6a if M6 is true. The same content tells us what we can rule in and what we can rule out. Again, it is this shared content that connects the two.

 

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

 

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

 

However, as we have seen, between a metaphysical proposition and what might appear to be its negation there is a change of subject. They fail to relate to the same supposed state of affairs and hence they have a different content. [In fact, as we are about to see, they have no content at all.] There is nothing that connects them in the above manner.

 

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

 

L1: Time is a relation between events.

L2: Time isn't a relation between events.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Why that is so will now be explained.

 

By declaring a sentence like L1 "necessarily true", we seem to be ruling some things conclusively in, and thus ruling other things conclusively out as "necessarily false" (i.e., we seem to be ruling out the same state of affairs, but, in this case there is no shared state of affairs here).

 

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

 

[As we will see, L1 concerns the use of certain words not the world as such. It express a rule for the use of "time" -- but misconstrued as a fundamental truth about the world.]

 

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

 

L1 thus has no content at all, and neither has L2. They are both telling us nothing at all.

 

L1: Time is a relation between events.

 

L2: Time isn't a relation between events.

 

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

 

We imagine they depict at least a theoretical state of affairs -- which, as we have just seen, they can't.

 

Again: if there were a state of affairs that L1 pictured, we would be able to negate L1 legitimately, but as we have seen we can't do that without changing the subject.

 

Hence, with philosophical 'propositions' like L1 and L2, this entire exercise is an empty charade, for no content can be given to them. They depict no state of affairs, even in theory.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

And that includes the 'propositions' DM-theorists have concocted.

 

[Incidentally, "proposition" is in 'scare quotes' above, since it isn't clear there what was being proposed, or put forward for consideration (since, in such cases, they have no content); in that case, plainly, nothing (i.e., no content) has been proposed or put forward for consideration. (On vagueness, see here.)]

 

Indeed, because the negations of DM-propositions don't picture anything that could be the case in any possible world (for logical, not evidential or scientific reason), they, too, have no content. Naturally, that automatically empties the content of the original non-negated proposition.

 

The above might appear to be yet another example of a priori dogmatics, in that it denies that DM-propositions could "picture anything that could be the case in any possible world", but that isn't so. It is rather to say that it makes no sense to suppose they could. We have been presented with nothing that can be given a sense, even in theory. For all the sense they make, DM-propositions might just as well have been taken from The Jabberwocky:

 

Twas brillig, and the slithy toves,

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:

All mimsy were the borogroves,

And the mome raths outgrabe.'

 

[On this, see also here.]

 

Except, of course, The Jabberwocky is more obviously incoherent and nonsensical.

 

This brings us full circle to a point made earlier:

 

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.

 

In which case, it isn't possible to restrict or eliminate one of these semantic options (for instance, falsehood) in favour of the other (i.e., truth -- as metaphysicians in general try to do) without the above problems arising.

 

If, on the other hand, a proposition and its negation have the same content they will stand and fall together. But, DM-propositions stand alone since they have no content and hence can't share one such with anything, least of all their supposed negations. But that just means they collapse into non-sense and incoherence, indeed, as we have seen this happen with M1a.

 

This means that we have to find another way of explaining the invention and use of such non-sensical propositions. More on that presently. [Why they all (and not just M1a) collapse into incoherence will be explained below.]

 

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

 

M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.

 

M20: Motion sometimes occurs without matter.

 

Hence, and once again: 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 further 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 -- nor in fact to any metaphysical 'proposition'.45a

 

Metaphysical Fiat -- Dogma on Steroids

 

There is another rather odd feature of metaphysical theories that is also worth highlighting: since the supposed truth-values of defective sentences like those below aren't determined by 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 that in turn is because their supposed truth-status can't be derived from the world with which they can't now be compared.

 

Or, with a little more grandiosity, their opposites have to be pronounced "unthinkable" by a sage-like figure -- a Philosopher, a Dialectical Magus, a "Great Teacher".

 

Metaphysical pronouncements like this are as common as dirt in traditional thought -- and, as we can now see, in dialectics, too. Here are just a few (from Traditional Thought and from DM):

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Of course, the aforementioned 'ceremony' (whereby a sage-like figure pronounces on their Cosmic Veracity) must be performed in abeyance of the evidence; indeed, none need ever be sought. Quite the contrary, in fact; evidence would detract from the pre-eminent status granted these Super- Verities -- since they are metaphysical gems that now possess thoroughly undeserved apodictic certainty. Theses such as these by-pass -- by mere decree -- the usual 'grubby' social practices that govern the determination of the truth-values of ordinary, boring, 'grubby', empirical propositions.

 

We have already seen Lenin declare that:

 

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

 

So it seems that the need to provide evidence is a distraction, one that dedicated dialecticians should rightly eschew. In this particular case, the thesis that UOs exist everywhere in nature and society -- governing every single change right across the universe, for all of time --, expresses a "law of cognition", a "law of the objective world", and it is these very "laws" that legitimate the imposition of dialectical dogma on nature and society. The search for evidence begins and ends with dialecticians leafing through Hegel's Logic -- or the work of some other obscure Mystic, like Heraclitus, Zeno, Plotinus, Spinoza or Jakob Boehme.

 

Indeed, here is Herbert Marcuse endorsing this a priori approach to knowledge:

 

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

 

[UO = Unity of Opposites.]

 

'Observable facts' just get in the way of these dogmatists.

 

[Again, I have posted well over a hundred examples of this dogmatic frame-of-mind in Essay Two.]

 

James White exposes this attitude to 'philosophical knowledge' -- in this case, exhibited by the German Idealists, the intellectual foster parents of DM:

 

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

 

In fact, this approach to 'philosophical truth' has dominated this ancient, ruling-class 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, Cosmic Gems like these had to be set apart; they had to and have their semantic pre-eminence bestowed on them as a gift. They can't be expected, nor must they be allowed, to consort with vulgar empirical utterances, besmirched as the latter are by so much worldly, working-class grime.

 

Instead of being compared with material reality to ascertain their (supposed) truth-status, the veracity of these Super-Truths was derived solely from, or compared only with, other related theses of similar Intergalactic Stature as part of a 'terminological gesture' at 'verification'. 'Confirmation', therefore, took place only in the head of the theorist concocting them.

 

Their bona fides were thus thoroughly Ideal -- and hence 100% bogus.

 

M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.

 

M1b: Motion without matter isn't unthinkable.

 

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

 

As we have seen in previous section, in relation to M1a, it is impossible even to outline the material conditions under which M1b could be declared true so that DM-theorists could specify what it was that was in fact being ruled out by the 'necessary' status of M1a. As with other metaphysical theses there is no legitimate negation of M1a that would make M1b true. That is because the DM-concept of matter is predicated on the supposed truth of P4. The latter tells us what DM-theorists mean by the word "matter". So, it isn't just a fact about matter that it moves, it is its defining characteristic. Change that and the meaning of the word "matter", as DM-theorists conceive of it, must change, too.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.

 

M1b: Motion without matter isn't unthinkable.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

These two stand or fall together....

 

So, if we find out that M6a is true, we can automatically infer the falsehood of M6 -- and vice versa. In that case, we can reject M6 if M6a is true, just as we can reject M6a if M6 is true. The same content tells us what we can rule in and what we can rule out. Again, it is this shared content that connects the two.

 

However, as we have seen, between a metaphysical proposition and what might appear to be its negation there is a change of subject. They fail to relate to the same supposed state of affairs and hence they have no content.

 

In which case, the truth of M1a doesn't imply the falsehood of M1b (nor vice versa) -- as had been the case with M6 and M6a -- since they don't share the same content (indeed they have no content), so there is nothing that links them, again, in the way that M6 and M6a are linked.

 

M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.

 

M1b: Motion without matter isn't unthinkable.

 

In which case, if we can't say under what conditions M1a is true (since it depicts nothing at all), we can't say it is false, either. In which case, we are in no position to declare M1a either true or false! Any attempt to do so must fall apart, for that would imply that two logically unrelated sentences (M1a and M1b) were related after all.

 

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

 

Once more: DM-'propositions' lack a sense, and there is nothing that can be done to rectify the situation.

 

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

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

 

Just like other metaphysical 'propositions', M1a was conceived out of, and was then born into, an Ideal world divorced from the language of ordinary workers. The Super-Theses concocted by the socially-isolated brains of lone thinkers, as if they 'reflected' the 'essential' nature of the world, relate to nothing whatsoever in nature or society (despite appearances to the contrary, and in spite of the intentions of their inventors). The conventions of ordinary language -- the language of the proletariat -- actually prevent them from doing this, rendering them contentless, as we have just seen.

 

Since it isn't possible to specify what would count as evidence that showed a proposition like M1a was true -- or even that showed it was false -- such 'propositions' aren't as a result materially-grounded -- that is, they aren't sensitive to any state of affairs in the 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 concluded that DM-theses can't be used to propagandise and agitate workers, nor can they be employed in revolutionary situations, such as 1917, as we have also seen.

 

Instead of reflecting the world, these sentences do the exact opposite. They purport to determine the way the world must be, not the way it happens to be. The artificially-constructed, jargon-based, Ideal world of Traditional Philosophy reflects the distorted language from which it has been derived; it doesn't reflect the material world, but an ersatz world in the minds of boss-class theorists.

 

And, just like Traditional Philosophers, DM-theorists also dictate to the world how it must be.

 

By way of contrast, in their search for genuine knowledge, scientists allow the world to tell us how it happens to be.

 

That is why 'profound truths' can be read only from a priori theses like M1a and P4 -- but not from nature --, since they are part of an attempt to impose a set of theses 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 determined by any sort of comparison with the facts, but has to be bestowed on them by the thinkers who dreamt them up.46

 

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

 

M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.

 

The normal cannons that determine when something is true or false (i.e., a thorough search for evidence that we find, for example, in the genuine sciences) have to be set aside, and a spurious 'evidential' ceremony substituted for it.47

 

The Evidential Pantomime -- Mickey Mouse Science Strikes Back

 

With respect to DM, this bogus ceremony is invariably carried out after the event -- that is, after such theses had been imported 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 aspects:

 

(1) This pantomime 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 compared with other related doctrines -- such as P4 -- or more often, they are compared with yet more terminologically-compromised sentences lifted from Hegel -- as part of a jargon-riddled gesture at 'verification'. This is no big surprise; DM-theses are quintessentially Ideal and consistently anti-materialist.48

 

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

 

(2) This ritual often takes the form of a series of superficial thought experiments, which are accompanied by an idiosyncratic, 'logical' analysis of a few key terms, artificially boosted by a liberal use of modal or quasi-modal terms, such as "must", "inconceivable", "demand", "insist", "unthinkable", and "impossible". A classic example of this approach is to be found in Engels's 'analysis' of motion, which is based exclusively on the words (or the concepts) involved. He nowhere appeals to evidence in support of what he claimed was true of moving bodies, and it is impossible to imagine any that could be called on in support. [I have dealt with this at greater length in Essay Five; readers are referred there for more details.]

 

(3) Again, almost invariably, the application of these 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 or left hoplessly vague.

 

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 have called DM a classic example of "Mickey Mouse Science". We can now see why: the supposedly "self-evident" or "obvious" nature of DM-theses means that little, or no, empirical support is required. Hence, a few trite, specially-selected examples are used merely to 'illustrate' (they certainly can't prove) these 'Laws', which are then retailed, ad nauseam, year-in, year-out.

 

Incidentally, this is why DM-fans soon reach for the knee-jerk response, "You don't understand dialectics" and fling it critics. That is because their theory isn't based on evidence, but on a certain (and rather quirky) 'understanding' of a limited set of words or 'concepts'.

 

(4) On other occasions, the watery thin 'evidence' used to illustrate (but not prove) DM-theses turns out to be the result of a superficial attempt made at some rather basic and heavily constrained linguistic or 'conceptual' analysis, itself based on what amount to a series of 'persuasive definitions' or vague 'abstractions' or dubious provenance.49 More specifically, as we saw in Essay Three Part One, appeals are often made to predicate expressions that 'name' these mysterious 'abstractions' --, which in fact turn out to be abstract particulars -- vitiating the whole exercise by destroying generality.

 

Whatever convoluted legerdemain is 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 move in this charade involves a misuse of these terms (or this new use is hoplessly vague), the words employed in fact no longer possess their usual meanings, which in turn means that the whole exercise is now doubly pointless.

 

[For example, DM-theorists en masse liberally, and almost neurotically, use the term "contradiction", but they don't mean this word 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. (Spoiler -- we discover that it is far from clear what they do mean by this Hegelian term, as, indeed, Hegel was before them.]

 

In fact, no process of revising a word can begin if that word has been distorted from the get-go; it isn't possible to revise such words if they aren't actually being used -- and a distorted term substituted for them -- 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 terms put in a brief appearance -- words like "motion", "unthinkable", "opposite", "equal", "place", "quality", "identical", "negation", "contradiction", and so on -- but, by no stretch of the imagination do these terms have the same meaning as their supposed equivalents in the vernacular, and that is because of the extraordinary or decidedly odd use to which they have now been 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 validity of every single DM-thesis evaporates faster than a drop of alcohol on a hot plate.

 

Nevertheless, this is precisely what creates the spurious 'obviousness' and 'self-evidence' DM-theses seem to possess --, which incidentally also accounts for the consternation DM-fans often display when their theories have been dissected, and then demolished (as they have been at this site) -- this almost invariably motivates the hackneyed "pedantry"/"semantics" DM-'defence'. The rationale behind, for example, the repudiation of DM in these Essays is completely mystifying to those who have been transfixed by this Idealist pantomime. How such apparently "self-evident", 'obviously true' DM-theses could fail to be true thus becomes "unthinkable". Indeed, as noted above, those of us who object just don't "understand" dialectics.

 

Naturally, DM-incredulity like this is a direct consequence of the fact that the 'truth' of DM-theses has been built into them by linguistic or conceptual fiat.

 

That is also why DM-fans find it difficult to understand anyone who denies, for instance, that a moving object is in two places at once, 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 imagine, and which certainly allow for the sort of movement and locomotion that demonstrate this DM-thesis is seriously misguided.50

 

The novel DM-use of what superficially look like 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' seem to sprout faster and spread more quickly in DM-literature than Japanese Knotweed.

 

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

 

This slide of meaning into unvarnished incoherence also generates the paradox that plagued Lenin's talk about matter and motion.

 

To compound the problem, these paradox-inducing linguistic moves 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 such words possess are brushed aside as 'unscientific', 'un-philosophical', "only valid with certain limits" --, or they are rejected as uninteresting, inessential, compromised 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 when applied to the real world of change; 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 even as defective and unsuitable to be used in philosophical or scientific contexts --, but, as we have seen, and will see, blame is cast upon them because the vernacular in fact disallows such 'philosophical' moves from being made. In that case, according to Traditional Theorists (and now DM-fans), if ordinary language disallows such moves --, or, indeed, if it fails to allow them --, then it is ordinary language which is to blame, not those moves!51

 

The late Professor Havelock noted the following moves the Presocratics tried to pull -- but this could very well apply, mutatis mutandis, to Traditional Philosophy and DM-theorists, in general:

 

"As long as preserved communication remained oral, the environment could be described or explained only in the guise of stories which represent it as the work of agents: that is gods. Hesiod takes the step of trying to unify those stories into one great story, which becomes a cosmic theogony. A great series of matings and births of gods is narrated to symbolise the present experience of the sky, earth, seas, mountains, storms, rivers, and stars. His poem is the first attempt we have in a style in which the resources of documentation have begun to intrude upon the manner of an acoustic composition. But his account is still a narrative of events, of 'beginnings,' that is, 'births,' as his critics the Presocratics were to put it. From the standpoint of a sophisticated philosophical language, such as was available to Aristotle, what was lacking was a set of commonplace but abstract terms which by their interrelations could describe the physical world conceptually; terms such as space, void, matter, body, element, motion, immobility, change, permanence, substratum, quantity, quality, dimension, unit, and the like. Aside altogether from the coinage of abstract nouns, the conceptual task also required the elimination of verbs of doing and acting and happening, one may even say, of living and dying, in favour of a syntax which states permanent relationships between conceptual terms systematically. For this purpose the required linguistic mechanism was furnished by the timeless present of the verb to be --  the copula of analytic statement.

 

"The history of early philosophy is usually written under the assumption that this kind of vocabulary was already available to the first Greek thinkers. The evidence of their own language is that it was not. They had to initiate the process of inventing it....

 

"Nevertheless, the Presocratics could not invent such language by an act of novel creation. They had to begin with what was available, namely, the vocabulary and syntax of orally memorised speech, in particular the language of Homer and Hesiod. What they proceeded to do was to take the language of the mythos and manipulate it, forcing its terms into fresh syntactical relationships which had the constant effect of stretching and extending their application, giving them a cosmic rather than a particular reference." [Havelock (1983), pp.13-14, 21. Bold emphases added; quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Spelling adapted to agree with UK English. Links added.]

 

Ordinary language is thus caught in a philosophical vice, as it were. On the one hand, the everyday meaning of words doesn't sanction the theories metaphysicians try to wring out of them, while on the other, ordinary words are deemed inadequate because they generate 'paradox' -- when in reality that alleged defect was motivated 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. See also, here.]

 

In view of the above, we 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.]

 

Short-Circuiting The 'Power Of Negativity'

 

The story so far: the necessary exclusion of one or other of the semantic options available to empirical sentences completely undermines their capacity to accommodate the logical role of the non-excluded, twin -- truth in favour of falsehood, or falsehood in favour of truth. For, as we have seen, if such sentences can only be false, and never true, they can't actually be false -- nor vice versa. That is because, if an empirical proposition, or indicative sentence, is false, it isn't true.53

 

But, if we can't say under what circumstances such a sentence is true then we certainly can't say in what way it falls shorts of this so that it could be untrue, and hence false. Conversely, if it can only be true, the conditions that would make it false is likewise excluded; if we can't say under what circumstances such a sentence is false then we certainly can't say in what way it falls short of this so that it could be true, and hence not false. In which case, its truth (or its non-falsehood) similarly falls by the wayside.

 

Again, this forms part of understanding the sense of a proposition; to grasp this, a speaker has to know under what conditions a given empirical proposition would be true or would be false. The two stand or fall together; knowing what would make such 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.

 

C2: Barak Obama doesn't own a copy of Das Kapital.

 

Anyone who knows the English language, and knows who and what Barak Obama and Das Kapital are will understand this sentence. Even if they haven't a clue whether it is true or whether it is false, they would certainly know what state of affairs has to obtain that 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 make it false. If this weren't the case, if a speaker didn't know this (explicitly or implicitly), then that would provide prima facie evidence that they didn't actually understand C1 or C2.

 

Of course, DM-theorists aren't really interested in banal propositions like C1; they are more interested in change and hence in propositions that express development. In such circumstances, the negative particle seems, to them, to add content to a given sentence. Perhaps via the NON.

 

[NON = Negation of the Negation.]

 

This supposition involves the 'power of negativity', which drives change, allegedly by adding content. This odd claim will be examined in more detail in Parts Five and Six of Essay Twelve. Suffice it to say here that if this were the case, 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, isn't located at <x1, y1, z1>, at t1.

 

[Where "x1", "y1", and "z1" are Cartesian ordinates, and "t1" is a temporal variable.]

 

Which is, of course, contrary to what Hegel and Engels maintained:

 

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

 

"If, now, the first determinations of reflection, namely, identity, difference and opposition, have been put in the form of a law, still more should the determination into which they pass as their truth, namely, contradiction, be grasped and enunciated as a law: everything is inherently contradictory, and in the sense that this law in contrast to the others expresses rather the truth and the essential nature of things. The contradiction which makes its appearance in opposition, is only the developed nothing that is contained in identity and that appears in the expression that the law of identity says nothing. This negation further determines itself into difference and opposition, which now is the posited contradiction.

 

"But it is one of the fundamental prejudices of logic as hitherto understood and of ordinary thinking that contradiction is not so characteristically essential and immanent a determination as identity; but in fact, if it were a question of grading the two determinations and they had to be kept separate, then contradiction would have to be taken as the profounder determination and more characteristic of essence. For as against contradiction, identity is merely the determination of the simple immediate, of dead being; but contradiction is the root of all movement and vitality; it is only in so far as something has a contradiction within it that it moves, has an urge and activity.

 

"In the first place, contradiction is usually kept aloof from things, from the sphere of being and of truth generally; it is asserted that there is nothing that is contradictory. Secondly, it is shifted into subjective reflection by which it is first posited in the process of relating and comparing. But even in this reflection, it does not really exist, for it is said that the contradictory cannot be imagined or thought. Whether it occurs in actual things or in reflective thinking, it ranks in general as a contingency, a kind of abnormality and a passing paroxysm or sickness....

 

"Now as regards the assertion that there is no contradiction, that it does not exist, this statement need not cause us any concern; an absolute determination of essence must be present in every experience, in everything actual, as in every notion. We made the same remark above in connection with the infinite, which is the contradiction as displayed in the sphere of being. But common experience itself enunciates it when it says that at least there is a host of contradictory things, contradictory arrangements, whose contradiction exists not merely in an external reflection but in themselves. Further, it is not to be taken merely as an abnormality which occurs only here and there, but is rather the negative as determined in the sphere of essence, the principle of all self-movement, which consists solely in an exhibition of it. External, sensuous movement itself is contradiction's immediate existence. Something moves, not because at one moment it is here and at another there, but because at one and the same moment it is here and not here, because in this 'here', it at once is and is not. The ancient dialecticians must be granted the contradictions that they pointed out in motion; but it does not follow that therefore there is no motion, but on the contrary, that motion is existent contradiction itself.

 

"Similarly, internal self-movement proper, instinctive urge in general, (the appetite or nisus of the monad, the entelechy of absolutely simple essence), is nothing else but the fact that something is, in one and the same respect, self-contained and deficient, the negative of itself. Abstract self-identity has no vitality, but the positive, being in its own self a negativity, goes outside itself and undergoes alteration. Something is therefore alive only in so far as it contains contradiction within it, and moreover is this power to hold and endure the contradiction within it. But if an existent in its positive determination is at the same time incapable of reaching beyond its negative determination and holding the one firmly in the other, is incapable of containing contradiction within it, then it is not the living unity itself, not ground, but in the contradiction falls to the ground. Speculative thinking consists solely in the fact that thought holds fast contradiction, and in it, its own self, but does not allow itself to be dominated by it as in ordinary thinking, where its determinations are resolved by contradiction only into other determinations or into nothing

 

"If the contradiction in motion, instinctive urge, and the like, is masked for ordinary thinking, in the simplicity of these determinations, contradiction is, on the other hand, immediately represented in the determinations of relationship. The most trivial examples of above and below, right and left, father and son, and so on ad infinitum, all contain opposition in each term. That is above, which is not below; 'above' is specifically just this, not to be 'below', and only is, in so far as there is a 'below'; and conversely, each determination implies its opposite. Father is the other of son, and the son the other of father, and each only is as this other of the other; and at the same time, the one determination only is, in relation to the other; their being is a single subsistence. The father also has an existence of his own apart from the son-relationship; but then he is not father but simply man; just as above and below, right and left, are each also a reflection-into-self and are something apart from their relationship, but then only places in general. Opposites, therefore, contain contradiction in so far as they are, in the same respect, negatively related to one another or sublate each other and are indifferent to one another. Ordinary thinking when it passes over to the moment of the indifference of the determinations, forgets their negative unity and so retains them merely as 'differents' in general, in which determination right is no longer right, nor left left, etc. But since it has, in fact, right and left before it, these determinations are before it as self-negating, the one being in the other, and each in this unity being not self-negating but indifferently for itself.

 

"Opposites, therefore, contain contradiction in so far as they are, in the same respect, negatively related to one another. Ordinary thinking when it passes over to the moment of the indifference of the determinations, forgets their negative unity and so retains them merely as 'differents' in general, in which determination right is no longer right, nor left left, etc. But since it has in fact right and left before it, these determinations are before it as self-negating, the one being in the other, and each in this unity being not self-negating but indifferently for itself." [Hegel (1999), pp.439-41, §955-§960. Bold emphases alone added.]

 

However, we saw above that the negative particle can't do what DM-fans or Hegel-groupies require of it. With respect to metaphysical-, and DM-'propositions', we have seen that negating them changes the subject, which in turn means that such 'propositions' and their supposed negations are devoid of content. So, instead of adding content, 'dialectical negation' reveals they had no content to begin with. 

 

On the other hand, if negation does add content, then C3 and C4 will have a different content. So, as soon as DM-theorists insist that 'dialectical negation' adds content, they lose the right to call the propositions that involved "contradictories". Of course, they might mean something different by "contradiction", but, if so, what is it?

 

C3: Moving object, B, is located at <x1, y1, z1>, at t1.

 

C4: Moving object, B, isn't located at <x1, y1, z1>, at t1.

 

[Alas, as we have seen in Essay Three Parts One, Two and Three, it is in fact impossible to ascertain with any clarity what DM-fans do mean by their odd use "contradiction". 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 -- alongside 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) aren't just senseless, they are non-sensical. That is, they are incapable of expressing a state of affairs, and hence they are incapable of being true and incapable of being false -- i.e., incapable of expressing a sense. Whatever we try to do with them collapses into incoherence.54

 

For the last two-and-a-half millennia, metaphysicians have consistently overlooked or ignored this logical feature of empirical propositions. [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, but not from the distorted language on which their theories were based.

 

Innocent-looking linguistic infelicities like these helped motivate the invention of theories that were supposed to 'reflect' the 'essential' features of 'reality', accessible to thought alone. But, if such 'truths' are based on nothing more than linguistic chicanery, on distortion or misuse, then no evidence could be offered in their support -- except that which is based on yet more verbal legerdemain.

 

Metaphysical 'necessity' is thus little more than a shadow cast on the world by distorted language (to paraphrase both Wittgenstein and Marx).

 

Over the centuries, metaphysical systems thus developed, not by becoming empirically more refined or by becoming increasingly useful (in relation to, say, technology) -- which has proved to be the case with scientific theory -- but by becoming increasingly labyrinthine, convoluted and baroque, as further incomprehensible layers of jargon were deposited on earlier layers of linguistically deformed bedrock.

 

Hegel's system alone provides ample evidence of that!

 

Naturally, this confirms the fact that these two semantic possibilities -- truth and falsehood -- must remain open options if a proposition is to count as empirical, subject to evidential confirmation, and thus for it to count as "thinkable", in this sense.

 

In which case, as the above shows, no sentence can express a 'necessary truth' about the world while remaining empirical.55

 

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

 

Metaphysical Camouflage

 

While Mathematics Adds Up...

 

[This section is something of a side-issue and may be skipped by anyone wanting to concentrate on the main theme. The only caveat here is that the next section might not be fully understood if this section is by-passed. Readers who do want to skip this section can begin again here.]

 

Considerations like these show that indicative sentences conceal their varied logical forms, which is why it is unwise to take the superficially similar grammatical features of language at face value. This in turn demonstrates that while sentences like M2-M9 might well be indicative -- with several of them also appearing to be empirical -- they in fact masquerade as empirical propositions and thus fail to express a sense. And that is a consequence of the conventions ordinary users have established -- by their practice, but not in general by their deliberations --, which constitute the nature of empirical propositions.

 

Even so, not every indicative sentences is, or need be, metaphysical.

 

For example, consider the following:

 

M2: Two is a number.

 

This appears to be unconditionally, or even necessarily, true. However, its 'negation':

 

M21: It isn't the case that two is a number,

 

isn't false, it is either incomprehensible or, despite appearances to the contrary, it isn't about the number two. [On that, see below.]

 

[In what follows, I have confined my comments to rather banal sentences like M2 and M21 in order to account for their 'truth' and in order to distinguish such sentences from both metaphysical-, and DM-'propositions'. This isn't meant to be an Essay about the nature of mathematics, so more complex mathematical 'propositions' will in general be ignored.]

 

M21 isn't just contingently false -- if it is taken to be a mathematical and not simply a terminological proposition (that is, if it isn't viewed as a proposed revision to the names we utilise in our number system, what I later call the "trivial" option) -- it seems necessarily false.  But, short of trivial examples (on that, also see below), because it is impossible to specify 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 that for it to be false.

 

Unlike empirical propositions, M2 and M21 don't have the same content, nor do they relate to the same state of affairs, since neither relate to any state of affairs to begin with. If they did, a comparison with the world, a reference to facts, would be relevant to ascertaining their truth or establishing their falsehood. In turn that is because (as we saw earlier), between M2 and M21 there is a change of subject, since if two isn't a number (according to M21) then that use of "two" is different from its use in M2.

 

M2: Two is a number.

 

M21: It isn't the case that two is a number.

 

M2 expresses a rule for the use of the number word "two" (as a number), since it reflects the role this word occupies in our number system. At best, M21 (perhaps) records the rejection of that rule -- again, if we ignore the trivial options.

 

To think otherwise (of M21) -- that it expresses a supposed truth, or a supposed falsehood, and assuming it isn't in fact a simple terminological revision (the trivial case mentioned earlier) -- would be to misidentify the use of the word "two". That change of meaning would significantly alter any of the mathematical propositions (equations, etc.) in which this word (or the numeral "2") 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 isn't possible to specify conditions under which M21 would be "logically true" (trivial examples excepted, once more), then it would be equally impossible to say under what conditions it would fail to be "logically true", and hence "logically false" (or "necessarily false").

 

[Of course, it could be argued that M2 is "definitionally true", but that would merely be to point out that M2 is an expression of a rule, after all.]

 

M21: It isn't the case that two is a number.

 

Consider now one of the aforementioned trivial cases: suppose that in the course of development of the English language a different word had been chosen in place of "two". In such an eventuality, plainly, not much would change. Suppose, therefore, that in English "Schmoo", or a different symbol for "2" (perhaps "ж"), was used in place of "two" (or "2"). M2 and M21 would then become:

 

M2a : Schmoo is a number.

 

M21a: It isn't the case that Schmoo is a number.

 

But, as noted above, this would simply amount to just another minor terminological revision. If this word (or this new symbol) were used as we now use "two" (or "2") then there would be no substantive difference. [On this, see also Note 60.] And, clearly, the same would apply to number words and symbols used in other languages.

 

Others might argue that M21 is self-contradictory. In that case, when spelt-out this 'self-contradiction' might be expressed as follows, in M21b or M21c:

 

M21: It isn't the case that two is a number.

 

M21b: It isn't the case that the number two is a number.

 

M21c: The number two is a number and the number two isn't a number.

 

But, as seems plain, the first use of the word "two" in M21c isn't the same as the second use of "two". In that case, M21c is no more self-contradictory than this would be:

 

M21d: George W Bush is President of the USA and George H W Bush isn't President of the USA.

 

Of course, M21d isn't meant to express the same logical form as M21c (plainly M21c contains definite descriptions); it is merely meant to make explicit a change of denotation between the first and the second use of the words concerned. Plainly, in M21d, the first name refers to a different individual from the second. Similarly, in M21c, while the first occurrence of "two" the familiar number word; the second isn't. Indeed, the second says it isn't! Hence, the two halves of M21c do not constitute a contradiction.

 

If so, M2 can't be a logical truth, either.55a

 

So, M2 would itself only become 'false' if one or more of its constituent words changed their meanings (i.e., the trivial case mentioned above -- for example if "two" was no longer used to designate the whole number between one and three, and came to be the name of, say, a newly discovered planet). But even then, M2 wouldn't be about what we now call "two". Plainly, as soon as anyone attempts to deny that number two is a number, they automatically cease to talk about the number two. [Once more, what they might be doing in such circumstances is rejecting a rule of language, but that wouldn't affect how the rest of us use the rules, or the vocabulary, we now have.]

 

M2: Two is a number.

 

M21: It isn't the case that two is a number.

 

M21e: Two isn't a number.

 

Hence, despite appearances to the contrary, M21/M21e and M2 don't in fact contradict one another. That is because M21 and/or M21e are either incomprehensible, or they are is about something else -- the trivial case, once more. Again, negation here would, at best, amount to the rejection of a rule, or it would be trivial.56, 56a

 

Conclusions to the contrary may only be sustained by (a) The false belief that M2 actually stands alone as a mathematical unit, when it is part of a number system, or (b) The idea that M2 is a contingent proposition.

 

But, what makes M2 mathematical is its use in a system of propositions, which is one aspect of a historically-conditioned set of practices inter-linked by rule-governed operations, direct and indirect proofs, inductions, and definitions, etc. Moreover, M2 isn't a contingent proposition (except trivially so), but the expression of a rule; it tells us how we use, and are supposed to use, this symbol. It situates the latter in an wider system of symbols.

 

The 'truth' of M2 doesn't derive from the way it relates as an 'atomic unit' to an alleged mathematical fact hidden away in a Platonic Heaven of some sort (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 has been developed and grown in wider material and social practices. [On this, see Note 56.]

 

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

 

Our use of such propositions -- which, as we can see, differs markedly from the way we use and comprehend empirical propositions -- indicates that they have a radically different logical form. The failure of a proposition like M2 to correspond with anything in the world (or, indeed, in Platonic Heaven) is revealed by the fact that (barring trivial cases, once more) we would ordinarily fail to understand its 'negation' -- i.e., M21. Anyone who asserted M21 wouldn't be making an ordinary sort of factual error, or denial, as they would had they uttered: "It isn't the case that David Cameron has resigned as UK Prime Minister" on or after the 25th of June, 2016.

 

M2: Two is a number.

 

M21: It isn't 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, problem solving, and by the use of assorted proofs --, but not by 'abstraction'. Children aren't taught to 'abstract' numbers, but to count, and at some point the 'penny drops', as it were; at that point parents and carers often find it impossible to stop their charges if and when they latch onto the pattern. Hence, understanding mathematical propositions goes hand-in-hand with mastering a skill, or a technique, and subsequently by learning proofs, coupled with the successful completion of a variety of operations and guided tasks.57a

 

In that case, it wouldn't be possible to declare M2 true because it 'corresponded' to a fact, or, indeed, false because it didn't -- either in reality or in Platonic Heaven -- since it isn't possible to determine what M2 rules out, and hence what it rules in (trivial cases to one side, again).

 

This is, of course, independent of the fact that it wouldn't be possible to confirm M2 by comparing it with an abstract fact (even if we could make sense of an abstract fact, or even of the process of comparing a sentence with an 'abstraction'). To understand M2 and its use is to master a technique, or a rule; it isn't to have located a confirming fact or 'abstraction'. No fact would be able to tell a pupil how to proceed, or how to use M2. Moreover, contingent facts can be false. That would appear to make M21 true. But, there is a change of subject in M21, so the supposed truth of M21 would have no bearing on the semantic status of M2 (trivial cases to one side again). As we have seen, M2 has no negation.

 

In that case, the mere insertion of a negative particle into a sentence doesn't automatically create the negation of 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 application of the negative particle, non-empirical indicative sentences may not be so paired. This isn't, of course, unconnected with the fact that empirical sentences can be understood before their truth-values are known, whereas propositions like M2 are comprehensible independently of that pre-condition -- they are fully grasped only by those who know how to count and to calculate, etc. In that case, the meaning of M2 must be accounted for in a different way to that of, say, M6:

 

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

 

M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.

 

M2: Two is a number.

 

M21: It isn't the case that two is a number.

 

As has already been noted, M6 can be understood well in advance of its truth-value being known; that truth-value can't be ascertained on linguistic or logical grounds alone. That is quite unlike, say, M2 (or even, M1a).

 

This means that sentences like M2 aren't empirical. In fact, they express rules for the use of certain words (or they are the consequence of the application of those rules); that is, they express the normative application of the key terms they contain, and because of this they are incapable of being empirically true (or false). Any attempt to regard them as empirical soon collapses into incoherence, as we have seen.

 

[Of course, it isn't being suggested here that children are taught mathematics by leaning to repeat, or internalise, sentences like M2. Children demonstrate they (implicitly) understand M2 by being able to count and do simple arithmetic, etc.]

 

As it turns out, the confusion of rules 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 its capacity to 'represent reality', or on its actual "reflection" in the 'mind' or in 'consciousness') rather than on socially-sanctioned and socially-conditioned practices and norms. Given the (traditional) view, falsehood is merely an erroneous, or 'partial', application of -- or it is the result of an incorrect connection made between -- various items that constitute the 'contents of consciousness', howsoever they are conceived. Because such 'representations' are compared only with other 'representations', this leaves the world out of the account, obviating the whole exercise!

 

[As we will see in Essay Three Part Four, this 'explanation' of the nature of falsehood is not only circular, it, too, is incoherent.]

 

Hence, this age-old approach to knowledge 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 development and interaction, are misinterpreted as an expression of the real relation between things, or as those things themselves. That is, they are misconstrued as 'necessary' truths that underpin reality, or which reflect its "essence", or which 'mirror' abstract or eternal truths in Platonic Heaven. In this way, they become Super-empirical, and are in no need of evidential support. It is this segue that exposes the pernicious fetishisation of language upon which these ancient forms-of-thought were predicated, and which have been 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, for example, isn't like the 'falsehood' of M2. To repeat, in order to understand M6, no one need know whether it is true or whether it is false. Moreover, its falsehood (in this case, expressed by its negation, M6a, if M6 were true) doesn't affect the meaning of any of the terms it contains. That isn't so with M2 and its apparent negation, M21:

 

M2: Two is a number.

 

M21: It isn't the case that two is a number.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

In stark contrast, the rejection, or modification, of propositions like M6 wouldn't herald profound change; it is unlikely that Blair's failure to own a copy of TAR will initiate a significant conceptual revolution.

 

The fundamental conceptual changes that are set in motion by alterations to the rules that 'govern' a mathematical, scientific or empirical use of language are also connected with factors that make metaphysical-, and DM-theses seem so certain, and their rejection so completely "unthinkable". Because metaphysical sentences arise out of a spurious or distorted use of language -- in fact, they often rely on a misconstrual of rules that establish, or which constitute, new meanings, and it is this that generates the impression that they represent profound 'truths' about 'Being', 'consciousness', 'essence', or even 'truth' itself, generated from language alone, not from our practical interface with the world, or with one another. This further motivates the impression that their truth-status is resolvable by 'thought' alone. And here lies the origin and source of the certitude that this approach to language and Metaphysics motivates.61

 

However, comparing M2 and M9:

 

M9: Motion is inseparable from matter.

 

M2: Two is a number.

 

At first sight, M9 looks like it might 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 and historical practices upon which it is based constitute, and hence express, the meaning of its terms. It is how human beings have already used these terms (in this case, in counting, calculating and proof, etc.) that establishes their meaning. The rule (i.e., M2) merely expresses something that is part of an already established practice. That can be seen from the additional fact that mathematics was invented by human beings who were already social animals; it wasn't given to humanity by visiting aliens, or even 'the gods'.62

 

On the other hand, if M2 were a rule because of an atomistic establishment of the meaning of its terms by isolated individuals as they 'abstracted' them into existence, de novo, each time (which is what Traditional Theory suggests), then meaning would be independent of use. Plainly, in that case, meaning wouldn't be based on social factors but on metaphysical principles of dubious provenance (and even more suspect logical status, as we have seen). [I have covered this topic in detail in Essays Three Parts One and Two, and Thirteen Part Three.]

 

Indeed, if that were the case, the meaning of M2's constituent terms would have to be given before they were employed in social practice, such as in counting, calculating or mathematical proof, and that could only have been achieved by independent 'abstractors' relying on just such metaphysical principles in a piecemeal, atomistic manner.63

 

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

 

That would have to be so since no fact, no abstraction, no mental image, no inner representation is capable of supplying the normativity that social reinforcement, education and training already provides. Hence, if the Traditional Picture is to work, these 'abstractions', 'images', 'representations', or 'concepts' would have to replicate inside each head what social factors already provide. So, they would have to become agents in their own right, thus fetishising them.

 

As Peter Hacker noted:

 

"It is indeed true that a sign can be lifeless for one, as when one hears an alien tongue or sees an unknown script. But it is an illusion to suppose that what animates a sign is some immaterial thing, abstract object, mental image or hypothesised psychic entity that can be attached to it by a process of thinking. [Wittgenstein (1969), p.4: 'But if we had to name anything which is the life of the sign, we should have to say that it was its use.'] One can try to rid oneself of these nonsensical conceptions by simple manoeuvres. In the case of the idealist conception, imagine that we replace the mental accompaniment of a word, which allegedly gives the expression its 'life', by a physical correlate. For example, instead of accompanying the word 'red' with a mental image of red, one might carry around in one's pocket a small red card. So, on the idealist's model, whenever one uses or hears the word 'red', one can look at the card instead of conjuring up a visual image in thought. But will looking at a red slip of paper endow the word 'red' with life? The word plus sample is no more 'alive' than the word without the sample. For an object (a sample of red) does not have the use of the word laid up in it, and neither does the mental image. Neither the word and the sample nor the word and the mental pseudo-sample dictate the use of a word or guarantee understanding.

 

"...It seemed to Frege, Wittgenstein claimed, that no adding of inorganic signs, as it were, can make the proposition live, from which he concluded that [for Frege -- RL] 'What must be added is something immaterial, with properties different from all mere signs'. [Wittgenstein (1969), p.4.] He [Frege -- RL] did not see that such an object, a sense mysteriously grasped in thinking, as it were a picture in which all the rules are laid up, 'would itself be another sign, or a calculus to explain the written one to us'. [Wittgenstein (1974a), p.40.].... To understand a sign, i.e., for it to 'live' for one, is not to grasp something other than the sign; nor is it to accompany the sign with an inner parade of objects in thought. It is to grasp the use of the sign itself." [Hacker (1993a), pp.167-68. Italic emphases in the original. Link added.]

 

And that use can only be supplied by social factors. This fact shouldn't have to be pointed out to Marxists.

 

Hence, the atomisation of the meaning of words amounts to a fetishisation of language (on this, see Note 64); it would make the 'social' interaction of words (or their inner 'representations') the determinant of how human beings use, or are supposed to use (by whom?), 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, not words, 'abstractions', 'representations', 'ideas', 'images' or 'concepts'.65

 

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

 

Hence, when questioned why "2" (or "two") had been used in, say, "2 + 7 = 9" (trivial cases to one side, again), all that the one challenged could appeal to would be sentences like M2 and the other rules of arithmetic -- either that, or simply retort "That's what I was taught! Were you taught differently?" This simple equation couldn't -- and wouldn't -- be confirmed or justified by comparing it with anything in the world (or with 'abstractions', 'representations', 'concepts', or 'images' in anyone's head or brain --, still less with anything tucked away as an Ideal Form 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 that attempt itself would only work if the parties involved already understood how to use the relevant vocabulary, rules of arithmetic and practice of counting. So, this 'justification' would in effect be an application of rules already understood and agreed upon.

 

This can be seen from the fact that if someone were to count two objects, and then count another seven, but declare that there were in total ten objects, they would be deemed to have made a mistake. Manifestly, we use the rules of arithmetic to decide if counting has been done correctly. We wouldn't even think to revise our rules, or our use of sentences like M2, if they had been so easily 'falsified' in this way.

 

Once more, that response is entirely different from our reaction if M6 were shown to be false. In that eventuality, no one would think to revise the application or the meaning of the words in M6. So, M2 is used to decide whether or an interface with reality has been carried out correctly; by way of contrast, reality is used to determine if M6 is correct.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 put to use in a whole range of 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 gain their meaning: as 'cogs' in systems of concepts that have grown in relation to our social development across many centuries. They didn't acquire the meaning they now have piecemeal; that is, they didn't gain their meaning atomistically before they were used socially, practically and contextually.66a

 

Nor does a mathematical proposition gain its 'sense' from the way it corresponds, or fails to correspond, with certain objects or structures hidden away in an ideal Platonic realm, or located in individual heads as 'abstractions' or 'representations'.67 In turn, this means that mathematical propositions aren't 'true' because they are the result of a process of abstraction (which is a quintessentially atomistic and individualistic phenomenon). They are 'true' because of the proof systems to which they belong, or to which they contribute (and which are themselves also reliant on some pretty regimented social practices), or because they are, in some cases, constitutive of the practices to which they belong.68

 

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

 

More formally, a mathematical context is a system of propositions that has grown up alongside specific social practices. Again, "two" doesn't gain the meaning it has in isolation, as appears to be the case if examples like M2 are read trivially -- that is, if they are read merely as terminological expressions. M2 can't supply "two" with a meaning that wasn't already there in a surrounding system of practices. Unless the logical space already existed for "two" to slot into as a number term, "two" could be the name of a cat, or the colour of the sky, or it might even be a meaningless inscription. "Two" gains its meaning from the rule-governed, normative role it plays in everyday life, and hence in mathematics, linked by systems of proof -- but not as a result of correspondence relations, or even the power of abstraction.

 

This can also be seen by the way mathematical propositions are confirmed. We don't subject them to empirical test or perform experiments on them. Nor do we run brain scans to see if others have understood number words, or whether they all understand them alike. We apply them successfully (or not) within the systems and practices in which members of a linguistic community have been socialised to apply them.70 Hence, M2 is empirically neither true nor false; it expresses a normative convention, a rule.71

 

...Dialectics Does Not

 

Analogously to the above 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 isn't 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. Rules like M2 are either useful or they aren't, they are either practical or they aren't.

 

M9: Motion is inseparable from matter.

 

M9a. Motion is separable from matter.

 

M9b. Motion is possible without matter.

 

M9c. Matter without motion is possible.

 

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

 

M2: Two is a number.

 

But, as far as DM-fans are concerned, M9 seems to be 'necessarily true' -- its supposed opposite (which would appear to be M9a, or perhaps more naturally, M9b or M9c) "unthinkable". This helps explain why any attempt made by DM-critics to question the veracity of sentences like M9 would invariably be rebuffed with a claim that sentences like M9 are true because of what words or concepts like "motion" and "matter" really mean, or what the phenomena really are -- expressed by P4. 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 -- of which there is none anyway in this respect. [What evidence could show M9 is the case? In fact, many Ancient Greek theorists accepted the evidence of their senses -- indeed, everyone's senses -- that matter is naturally motionless.] All that a dialectician could do in such circumstances is appeal to the words or concepts involved, and then, with Lenin, declare that motion without matter is "unthinkable" -- which is, of course, why Lenin didn't say "It is false to claim that motion can occur without matter, and here's the evidence that proves this". Which is, of course, why dialecticians (almost to a clone) respond to critics with a "You just don't understand dialectics", but they never say -- concerning the veracity of P4 or M9 -- "You should look at the evidence more carefully".

 

M9: Motion is inseparable from matter.

 

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

 

This hypothetical response (i.e., that dialecticians could only refer doubters to what certain words or concepts 'really' mean or imply) itself depends on an archaic way of viewing language, which sees discourse as a system of labels attached to -- or representing, or 'reflecting', singly as linguistic atoms -- objects and processes in the world (or mysterious 'Forms', 'Essences' and/or 'Substances' residing in an abstract world, Platonic Heaven, Aristotelian concept-space, or even as 'images, 'ideas' and 'concepts' in the 'mind'), but not as a dynamic expression of our communal and life.73

 

Once more, this helps account for the (proposed) rejoinder noted earlier (i.e., "M9 is true because of what its constituent words mean") could only ever be the last court of appeal for DM-theorists; there is nothing more that could be said to a sceptic who doubted the 'truth' of DM-theories. What little evidence there is that 'substantiates' even a narrow range of its theses soon proves to be of no help at all (as we have seen in other Essays, especially this one). 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 DM-linguistic-redoubt gives the game away. In the end, DM-theses are amenable to no other 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

 

But, dialecticians are social agents, too, so, their theories are sensitive to, or are reflective of, their class origin, current class position and ideas they had forced down their throats from day one -- as I have argued in other Essays at this site:

 

The founders of this quasi-religion [Dialectical Marxism] weren't workers; they came from a class that educated their children in the Classics, the Bible, and Philosophy. This tradition taught that behind appearances there lies a 'hidden world', accessible to thought alone, which is more real than the material universe we see around us.

This world-view was concocted by ideologues of the ruling-class, initially over two thousand years ago. They invented it because if you belong to, benefit from, or help run a society which is based on gross inequality, oppression and exploitation, you can keep order in several ways.

The first and most obvious way is through violence. This will work for a time, but it is not only fraught with danger, it is costly and it stifles innovation (among other things).

Another way is to win over the majority -- or, at least, a significant section of 'opinion formers' (bureaucrats, judges, bishops, 'intellectuals', philosophers, teachers, administrators, editors, etc.) -- to the view that the present order either: (i) Works for their benefit, (ii) Defends 'civilised values', (iii) Is ordained of the 'gods', or (iv) Is 'natural' and so can't be fought against, reformed or negotiated with.

Hence, a world-view that rationalises one or more of the above is necessary for the ruling-class to carry on ruling "in the same old way". While the content of ruling-class thought may have changed with each change in the mode of production, its form has remained largely the same for thousands of years: Ultimate Truth (about this 'hidden world') can be ascertained by thought alone, and therefore may be imposed on reality
dogmatically and aprioristically. {Some might think this violates central tenets of HM, in that it asserts that some ideas remained to same for many centuries; I have addressed that concern, here.]

So, the non-worker founders of our movement -- who had been educated from an early age to believe there was just such a 'hidden world' lying behind 'appearances', and which governed everything -- when they became revolutionaries, looked for 'logical' principles relating to this abstract world that told them that change was inevitable, and was part of the cosmic order. Enter dialectics, courtesy of the dogmatic ideas of that ruling-class mystic, Hegel. The dialectical classicists were quite happy to impose their 'new' theory on the world (upside down or the "right way up") -- as we saw in
Essay Two -- since that is how they had been taught 'genuine' philosophers should behave.

 

That 'allowed' the founders of this quasi-religion to think of themselves as special, prophets of the new order, which workers, alas, couldn't quite comprehend because of their defective education, their reliance on ordinary language and the 'banalities of commonsense'.

Fortunately, history has predisposed these dialectical prophets to ascertain truths about this invisible world on their behalf, which implied they were the 'naturally-ordained' leaders of the workers' movement -- indeed, 'Great Helmsmen'. That in turn meant that they were also teachers of the 'ignorant masses' who could thereby legitimately substitute themselves for the unwashed majority -- in 'their own interests', of course -- since they have been blinded by 'commodity fetishism', 'formal thinking', or they have been bought off by imperial 'super profits'. In which case, 'the masses' are 'incapable' of seeing the truth for themselves.

 

In that case, and in view of what has gone before in the Essay and this site, DM-theses are little more that misconstrued, or mis-applied, linguistic rules. Appearances to the contrary, DM-theses aren't expressed by means of what turn out to be empirical propositions; they are misconstrued rules for the idiosyncratic use of Hegelian and/or metaphysical jargon, imported into Marxism from a tradition that has impressive mystical, and hence ruling-class, credentials.74a

 

This also helps account for the frequent use of modal and emphatic, almost hyperbolic, expressions that litter DM-theses -- for example: "Motion must involve a contradiction", several of which were quoted earlier, but more fully in Essay Two), which follows from this comment by Engels:

 

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

 

"A motionless state of matter therefore proves to be one of the most empty and nonsensical of ideas…." [Engels (1976), p.74. Bold emphases alone added.]

 

Engels elsewhere informs his readers that certain things are "impossible":

 

"...[T]he transformation of quantity into quality and vice versa. For our purpose, we could express this by saying that in nature, in a manner exactly fixed for each individual case, qualitative changes can only occur by the quantitative addition or subtraction of matter or motion (so-called energy)…. Hence it is impossible to alter the quality of a body without addition or subtraction of matter or motion, i.e. without quantitative alteration of the body concerned." [Engels (1954), p.63. Bold emphases alone added.]

 

Add to that Lenin's comment from earlier: "Matter without motion is 'unthinkable'", or that his dialectical logic "requires" and "demands" this or that:

 

"Dialectics requires an all-round consideration of relationships in their concrete development…. Dialectical logic demands that we go further…. [It] requires that an object should be taken in development, in 'self-movement' (as Hegel sometimes puts it)….

 

"[D]ialectical logic holds that 'truth' is always concrete, never abstract, as the late Plekhanov liked to say after Hegel." [Lenin (1921), pp.90, 93. Bold emphases added.]

 

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

 

The Great Teacher was no less dogmatic, no less hyperbolic:

 

"Dialectical materialism is the world outlook of the Marxist-Leninist party....

 

"The dialectical method therefore holds that no phenomenon in nature can be understood if taken by itself....; and that, vice versa, any phenomenon can be understood and explained if considered in its inseparable connection with surrounding phenomena, as one conditioned by surrounding phenomena.

 

"Contrary to metaphysics, dialectics holds that nature is not in a state of rest and immobility, stagnation and immutability, but a state of continuous movement and change, of continuous renewal and development....

 

"The dialectical method therefore requires that phenomena should be considered not only from the standpoint of their interconnection and interdependence, but also from the standpoint of their movement and change....

 

"Contrary to metaphysics, dialectics holds that internal contradictions are inherent in all things and phenomena of nature, for they all have their negative and positive sides...; and that the struggle between these opposites, the struggle between the old and the new, between that which is dying away and that which is being born..., constitutes the internal content of the process of development, the internal content of the transformation of quantitative changes into qualitative changes....

 

"If there are no isolated phenomena in the world, if all phenomena are interconnected and interdependent, then it is clear that every social system and every social movement in history must be evaluated not from the standpoint of 'eternal justice'....

 

"Contrary to idealism..., Marxist philosophical materialism holds that the world and its laws are fully knowable, that our knowledge of the laws of nature, tested by experiment and practice, is authentic knowledge having the validity of objective truth, and that there are no things in the world which are unknowable, but only things which are as yet not known, but which will be disclosed and made known by the efforts of science and practice." [Stalin (1976b), pp.835-46. Bold emphases added.]

 

Likewise with Mao:

 

"The law of contradiction in things, that is, the law of the unity of opposites, is the basic law of materialist dialectics....

 

"As opposed to the metaphysical world outlook, the world outlook of materialist dialectics holds that in order to understand the development of a thing we should study it internally and in its relations with other things; in other words, the development of things should be seen as their internal and necessary self-movement, while each thing in its movement is interrelated with and interacts on the things around it. The fundamental cause of the development of a thing is not external but internal; it lies in the contradictoriness within the thing. There is internal contradiction in every single thing, hence its motion and development....

 

"The universality or absoluteness of contradiction has a twofold meaning. One is that contradiction exists in the process of development of all things, and the other is that in the process of development of each thing a movement of opposites exists from beginning to end....

 

"...There is nothing that does not contain contradictions; without contradiction nothing would exist....

 

"Thus it is already clear that contradiction exists universally and is in all processes, whether in the simple or in the complex forms of motion, whether in objective phenomena or ideological phenomena....

 

"...Contradiction is universal and absolute, it is present in the process of the development of all things and permeates every process from beginning to end...." [Mao (1937), pp.311-18. Bold emphases added.]

 

Lesser DM-clone, Maurice Cornforth, similarly opined:

 

"The dialectical method demands first, that we should consider things, not each by itself, but always in their interconnections with other things." [Cornforth (1976), p.72. Bold emphases added.]

 

"This struggle is not external and accidental…. The struggle is internal and necessary, for it arises and follows from the nature of the process as a whole. The opposite tendencies are not independent the one of the other, but are inseparably connected as parts or aspects of a single whole. And they operate and come into conflict on the basis of the contradiction inherent in the process as a whole….

 

"Movement and change result from causes inherent in things and processes, from internal contradictions….

 

"Contradiction is a universal feature of all processes….

 

"The importance of the [developmental] conception of the negation of the negation does not lie in its supposedly expressing the necessary pattern of all development. All development takes place through the working out of contradictions -– that is a necessary universal law…." [Cornforth (1976), pp.90, 95, 117; Bold emphases added.]

 

Finally, John Rees's "Totality is an insistence...", sprang straight out of this dogmatic tradition.

 

This is so whether or not such theses are accompanied later or at the same time with 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. Whoever says, "Copper must conduct electricity!", or "Science demands that light travels in straight lines!"

 

The opposite is the case with respect to DM-theses, 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.]

 

So, a "law of cognition" needs no help from the grubby, working class world of evidence and facts. Which reminds us why DM-theorists are quite happy to impose their ideas on nature. [On this topic, see also here.]

 

That is also why the following wouldn't normally be asserted:

 

M6b: Tony Blair must own a copy of The Algebra of Revolution.

 

That is, not unless M6b 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 the facts at some point.

 

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

 

With M6-type propositions it is reality that dictates to us whether they are true or they are false. Our use of such propositions means we aren't dictating to nature what it must contain, or what must be true of it. The exact opposite is the case with metaphysical and dialectical theses.

 

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 it says. M9 propositions can't be based on an inference from the evidence, either, since there is no body of evidence that could confirm, or even hint at the truth of the claim that motion is inseparable from matter, or that it is "the mode of the existence of matter".

 

Nevertheless, despite appearances to the contrary, M9 can't be true solely in virtue of what its words mean. Normally, the ordinary-looking words that theses like M9 seem to employ gain whatever import they have from the part they already play in wider human practices, those that involve their application in everyday contexts. Divorced from this background, the isolated use of specialised or jargonised expressions in sentences like M9 means that they are like fish out of water, as it were. Even though the words used in DM-theories look like ordinary words, their odd use divorces them from the vernacular -- rather like the way that the idiosyncratic, theological use of words like "father" and "son" to describe 'God' and 'Christ' divorce them from their everyday meaning, too.

 

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

 

Indeed, metaphysical 'sound bites' like M9 provide the only semantic and backdrop to the use of such terms. So, artificial DM-contexts like this supply the sole background for these 'dialectical nuggets-of-truth', and they do so in non-practical (hence, non-material) surroundings -- quite unlike 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 irreparably severed. Because DM-jargon isn't based on material practices (this was demonstrated in Essay Nine Part One) -- and can't be used in connection with the working class, or even the day-to-day activity of revolutionaries -- it either has no meaning whatsoever, or the usual meanings of the words DM-fans employ denies sentences like M1a any sense at all -- as we have seen. This,. of course, renders them not just non-sensical, but incoherent to boot.74a1

 

M9: Motion is inseparable from matter.

 

M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.

 

It is no surprise, therefore, to find that 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 then decay into incoherence so readily.74b

 

Metaphysical Gems

 

Incoherent Non-Sense

 

However, sentences that express (or try to express) the socially-generated rules governing our us of words are invariably misconstrued by DM-theorists (and, indeed, by metaphysicians in general) as if they were genuine empirical propositions -- but of a special, more profound sort. That is, they are interpreted as Superscientific truths which are capable of unmasking the underlying 'secrets' of nature. As we have seen, this means that the sentences that emerge as a result are non-sensical; but, in so far as they misuse or distort language, they are incoherent non-sense, too.75

 

Theses like M9, but more specifically, P4, tend to depend on -- just as they give 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. That is, they confront the reader 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 Kant and Leibniz); "The whole is more than the sum of the parts" (Metaphysical Holists of every stripe), "Every determination is also a negation" (Spinoza), and so on.75a0

 

M9: Motion is inseparable from matter.

 

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

 

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

 

[By "socially-isolated, I don't mean to suggest they weren't part of, or weren't operating within, a philosophical tradition, nor that they didn't belong to a group or school of other thinkers (in some cases), or even that they all lived alone. I am suggesting that they were in general divorced from ordinary social settings (i.e., isolated from the working class and ordinary life), and, by-and-large, enjoyed a privileged lifestyle, free from daily toil, often subsidised or patronised by a member of the ruling elite, belonged to the elite themselves, or were 'employees' of the Church -- or even that they had independent means. (I will cover this in more detail in Part Two of Essay Twelve.)]

 

But, theses like these were never based on -- nor were they even derived from -- a socially-sanctioned use of words drawn from everyday, material practice, otherwise the rest of us wouldn't need informing of them.75b

 

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

 

In fact, theses like these stage a dramatic entrance into the world of 'learning' as sparkling, linguistic 'jewels' (solitaire diamonds, if you will). They gain their 'meaning' -- their metaphysical glitter -- solely and exclusively from the artificial setting arranged for them 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.

 

Or, in some cases, as if their inventors were high!

 

[Which, in Freud's case, was literally true.]

 

And, surprise, surprise...the vast majority of highly educated individuals fall for this con-trick time and again.75c

 

Nevertheless, these 'metaphysical prophets' (acting like messengers of the gods -- each a latter day Hermes) often imagine that the 'real' meanings of the ordinary-looking words they use arise from the novel role bestowed on them by their pioneering efforts in reconstructive, linguistic surgery -- concocting a series names and neologisms for the 'abstract' objects and concepts they re-christened as "Essences".76

 

The above supposition (that Traditional Theorists deal only with 'real meanings') was further motivated by the equally erroneous idea that words gain their meaning individually -- as linguistic 'atoms' -- because of a direct and unmediated connection they supposedly enjoy with reality, or because of the intimate link these 'concepts' have with the ideas lodged in an individual theorist's head. This helps explain why this 'innovative' use/distortion of language is central to Metaphysics and DM -- as we saw in Essay Three Part One, and elsewhere.

 

Hence, for Traditional Thinkers, the assumption that 'names' gain their meaning directly and solely from whatever they allegedly name seems eminently plausible, just as it seems no less plausible to suppose that language (i.e., real language, philosophical language -- not the woefully defective vernacular) is based on an atomised, socially-isolated naming ritual of some sort, which is uniquely able -- nay qualified -- to home in on the 'Essence' of "Being" by the mere expedient of wishing that 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 to be true, but never actually shown to be so.77

 

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

 

This is a danger Bertell Ollman warned about (in relation to 'abstractionism'), as I noted in Essay Three Part Two (quoted earlier):

 

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

 

Indeed, this is something Ollman himself pointed out:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

It is no accident, either, that this approach not only undermines social nature of language, it is based on an explicit (or implicit) class-motivated rejection of the material roots of discourse in everyday life. Nor is it mere coincidental that thinkers who are, or were, openly sympathetic toward wider ruling-class interests invariably favoured this 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 stage of history as a significant political force.79

 

M9: Motion is inseparable from matter.

 

M8: Time is a relation between events.

 

M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.

 

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

 

The truth of 'solitaire' theses (like those above) is supposed to depend somehow on the meaning of the words they use. But, an atomistic use of words can't determine the sense of any sentences formed from them.80 Words gain their meaning from their applicability in an indefinitely large set of socially-sanctioned contexts.81 They don't have a meaning bestowed upon them first, divorced from linguistic or social contexts, which 'meaning' then enables them to function in sentences, any more than a lump of gold first gains its value in nature, or even in society, on its own as an isolated 'commodity' unconnected with 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. If the contrary supposition were the case, communication would be impossible (as Ollman pointed out).82

 

However, ex hypothesi, there are no other contexts in which metaphysical atoms like M1a, M9 or P4 can feature -- that is, other than those that fuel endless academic debate. The fundamental propositions of Metaphysics (such as, P4, M8 or M9) stand alone as isolated nuggets of truth, foundational principles, core precepts. 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, so readily collapses into incoherent non-sense.

 

[Of course, this depends on how we interpret the word "meaning"; I will say more about that presently.]

 

In a similar vein (no pun intended), Gold isn't just valueless in nature, it is incapable of gaining a value by itself and of its own efforts -- or, indeed, by the efforts of lone prospectors or refiners. And gold, too, would remain valueless if it had no connection with historically-conditioned material practice in a sufficiently developed economy.

 

Atomised Humanity Versus Socialised Language

 

Of course, to suppose otherwise --, i.e., to imagine that words, or their 'inner representations', determine their own meaning independently of the use to which humans put them in everyday contexts -- would be to fetishise them, as noted above.

 

Indeed, this would be tantamount to believing that words (or their 'inner representations') enjoy 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 that manner, and those meanings followed words (etc.) about the place like a shadow, then the idea that language is a social phenomenon would assume entirely different implications. In that case, discourse would still be social, but that would be because words (etc.) were the social beings here -- which would in turn mean that they had passed that property on to our use of language! Humanity would be social because our words already were!83

 

We are now in a position to understand why that is so: the supposition that a word (or, at least, its physical embodiment, its 'inner representation', perhaps) can motivate a human agent (causally or in any other way)84 to regard it as the repository of its own meaning -- so that inferences can be made from ink marks on the page (or from 'images', 'ideas', and 'representations' in the head) to super-empirical truths about 'Being', or whatever -- would be to misconstrue the products of the social relations among human beings (i.e., words) as if they were their own autonomous semantic custodians, as creators and carriers of meaning themselves. In effect, this would be to anthropomorphise words, treating them as if they had their own history, social structure and mode of development. In this way, the social nature of language would reappear in an inverted form as an expression of the social life of words (etc.). Humanity would be atomised, linguistic signs (etc.) socialised!85

 

In that case, M9 and P4 can't be true in virtue of the meanings of any of their words -- for no meaning has yet been given to this idiosyncratic use of language by human beings engaged in any form of material practice.

 

M9: Motion is inseparable from matter.

 

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

 

If, however, an attempt were made to specify the meaning of constituent words in a piecemeal fashion, a rule would be required.86 To suppose that there is some sort of connection between a rule and reality (determined, perhaps, by a physical law) would be to no avail, either. If a rule were to depend on such a connection, it would become an empirical proposition, and thus cease to be a rule.87

 

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

 

Lenin's Rules -- Not OK

 

[This sub-section is a recap of earlier results, but from a slightly different angle. It can be skipped by anyone who has 'got the point'. Begin again here.]

 

Elsewhere in MEC, Lenin went on to say:

 

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

 

In so far as M22 purports to inform us about the properties of matter in the real world, it looks like a scientific statement. However, as we have seen, when examined it turns out to be nothing of the sort. Contrast M22 with the following:

 

M23: Liquidity is an inseparable property of water.

 

M23a: Liquidity isn't an inseparable property of water.

 

Here, we can imagine conditions under which M23 would be false and M23a true (think of ice or steam). But, M22 is a very much stronger claim than M23, and is clearly connected with M1a (or, indeed, with M9 and P4). We can see 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.

 

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

 

M24 is apparently always true, its 'truth' clearly connected (at least) with the supposed meaning of words like "motion" and "inseparable", etc., both of which were ultimately based on the presumed truth of P4.

 

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

 

 

Figure One: Tuck In! You Have 120 Seconds To Beat...

 

Lenin was clearly alluding to a connection between matter and motion that was much tighter than this. He was perhaps reminding us of the futility of even trying -- that this wasn't an option --, just as it wouldn't be an option for anyone to try to disassociate oddness from the number three, or the concept king-killer from regicide, for instance.89

 

Hence, if we were to view M23 exactly as Lenin viewed M24, 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 wasn't just the only liquid, it was the only one that could exist in the universe -- and that liquidity was the only conceivable form of water.

 

M23: Liquidity is an inseparable property of water.

 

M24: Motion is an inseparable property of matter.

 

That is because, for Lenin, motion isn't just one of the defining characteristics of matter, nothing that moves (outside of the 'mind') 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.] Hence, the same would have to be true with respect to water, if we were to read M23 as we were meant to interpret M24.

 

M23: Liquidity is an inseparable property of water.

 

M23a: Liquidity is not an inseparable property of water.

 

M24: Motion is an inseparable property of matter.

 

M24a: Motion is not an inseparable property of matter.

 

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). That is because, once again, M24 holds open no truth possibilities  -- but only one envisaged necessity.

 

Lenin obviously believed that it was impossible even to think the falsehood of M24 (any more than it might be possible to think there were or could be four-edged triangles). As we have seen, he clearly agreed with Engels:

 

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

 

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

 

"A motionless state of matter therefore proves to be one of the most empty and nonsensical of ideas…." [Engels (1976), p.74. Bold emphases alone added.]

 

Nevertheless, and once again, the indicative mood of the main verb in M24 hides its real nature. Only a consideration of the overall use of this 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 can't be false no matter what happened in the world. So, its falsehood can't be based on any conceivable state of affairs. As noted earlier, its truth seems to arise from linguistic (or conceptual) 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 (or perhaps on the 'self-evidence' of P4 and his 'definition' of matter). He didn't even think to support it with any data (or even with much of an argument!). Its semantic status was underpinned by what Lenin plainly took its words to mean. Its truth was thus internally-generated, not 'externally' confirmable.89a

 

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

 

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 that must also make the following sentences false:

 

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

 

M19: This lump of matter is motionless.

 

[M24: Motion is an inseparable property of matter.]

 

But, ex hypothesi, M18 and M19 (or their content) are "unthinkable", according to Lenin; as soon as we think either of them (or their content) we face the sort of problems we encountered earlier.

 

Such 'necessary' truths make the possibilities they rule out (such as M18 or M19) not just 'false', but Super-false, and hence "unthinkable". This they do while at the same time requiring us to have to think about whatever it is they seek to exclude so that it can be rejected out-of-hand. But, in order to do that, we should have to be able to separate, in thought, motion from matter in order to be able to declare that it can't be done -- even in thought! Unless we could separate motion from matter in thought we would have no idea what we were meant to rule out, and thus we would have no idea what we were committing ourselves to rule in by accepting M24.

 

Hence, if we are capable of grasping the truth of M24, we must already have some comprehension of what would make it false, i.e., what M24 is ruling out. 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 is impossible to state in any comprehensible form.

 

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

 

Distortion By The Barrel -- Confusion By The Ton

 

As we have seen several times throughout this site, both metaphysical and DM-sentences readily decay into non-sense. They can't fail to do this. While appearing to mimic empirical 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 cases, they also turn out to be garbled or mis-stated maverick rules of linguage.91

 

Such sentences often attempt to say what can only be shown by the ordinary use of language.92 And this they do surreptitiously and dishonestly.

 

Metaphysics misconstrues conventions and forms of representation expressed in and by our socially-, and materially-conditioned use of language, but in a form that makes the 'truths' it appears to uncover look like Super-empirical and 'necessary' verities, unlike ordinary mundane truths associated with everyday practice, or even with genuine science. Empirical propositions hold open two possibilities: truth or falsehood. Metaphysical sentences, while purporting to be empirical, close one of these 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 at this site doesn't draw an a priori limit to the search for knowledge -- it merely reminds us that truths about nature can't be stated by misusing language. Moreover, they can't be formulated in a way that makes supporting evidence irrelevant, either.

 

Since metaphysical theses don't present genuine empirical possibilities, their repudiation and subsequent eradication can't adversely affect the scientific investigation of the world, nor can they interfere with any attempt to change it.

 

Metaphysical theses don't represent profound, ambitious or risky conjectures that merit our attention or respect. They contain nothing but empty phrases -- they are indeed "houses of cards" (to paraphrase Wittgenstein -- Investigations, §118) --, which, at best, express self-important confusion, at worst, a ruling-class 'view of reality'.

 

[More on that in Parts Two and Three of this Essay.]

 

Metaphysical pseudo-propositions violate the rules governing the formation of comprehensible empirical sentences by undermining the semantic possibilities the latter hold out. In addition, they misuse ordinary words while pretending to extend, alter or sharpen their meaning. Supposedly providing insight into the "essential" structure of reality, metaphysical and DM-theses attempt 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 the chameleonic outer facade the present the reader: 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 reduce themselves to non-sensicality and incoherence.

 

As should seem clear, these deflationary conclusions rule out the possibility of any future Metaphysics (including the fourth-rate version called "Materialist Dialectics"). Hence, this spurious approach to knowledge isn't even a viable option.

 

This does doesn't mean that if we were cleverer than we now are, we would be able to grasp, or even formulate, such Super-Truths --, or even that a 'mega-intelligent being' in a 'parallel universe' could discover a set of metaphysical profundities that presently lie beyond our comprehension. There is nothing there which Metaphysics pretends to find -- or even vaguely hint at -- for us to be ignorant of so that we (or anyone else) might go in search of it. The language that metaphysicians and DM-theorists themselves use rules this out as a feasible 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 therefore analogous to looking 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 hunt the Jabberwocky in your left ear.93a

 

Contrary to expectations, the repudiation of Metaphysics in fact opens up the conceptual space for science to flourish. In this way, scientists are free to formulate theories that possess true or false empirical implications. A fortiori, such truths won't depend solely on the meanings of the words they use, but on the way the universe happens to be. This wouldn't, and couldn't, be the case if science were based on Metaphysics -- for, in such an eventuality, scientific truth would depend solely on the meaning of words, not on any actual state of the world.

 

Hence, to paraphrase Kant: it is necessary to destroy Metaphysics -- and thus DM -- in order to make room for science.94

 

Notes

 

01. Much of the background to this Essay is based on Wittgenstein's work -- usefully outlined for us by Harrison (1979), as well Hanna and Harrison (2004). See also, Baker and Hacker (1984, 1988, 2005a). Some of what I have to say here coincides with the anti-metaphysical views expressed in Rorty (1980) -- (this links to a PDF). I distance myself, however, from the latter's anti-Realism, its attempt to establish a 'metaphysics of mind', and its rather odd equation of Philosophy with some form 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, either).]

 

1. Some might take exception to my use of "metaphysical" to describe such sentences. If so, they  can substitute the words "dogmatic", "essentialist" or "necessitarian" for "metaphysical" in phrases like "metaphysical theory" used throughout this Essay. That done, not much will be altered by these terminological modifications. It is the logical status of such sentences that is important, not what we call them. [More on this below.]

 

Here are a few relevant quotations about motion and matter from Engels and Lenin. 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 up to thinking." [Engels (1954), p.69. Bold emphasis added.]

 

Here, too, is Lenin quoting Engels:

 

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

 

"[T]he sole 'property' of matter with whose recognition philosophical materialism is bound up is the property of being an objective reality, of existing outside our mind." [Lenin (1972), p.311.]

 

"Thus…the concept of matter…epistemologically implies nothing but objective reality existing independently of the human mind and reflected by it." [Ibid., p.312.]

 

"[I]t is the sole categorical, this sole unconditional recognition of nature's existence outside the mind and perception of man that distinguishes dialectical materialism from relativist agnosticism and idealism." [Ibid., p.314.]

 

"The fundamental characteristic of materialism is that it starts from the objectivity of science, from the recognition of objective reality reflected by science." [Ibid., pp.354-55.]

 

Nevertheless, as we will see in Essay Thirteen Part One, even though these two dialecticians believe motion and matter are inseparable, Lenin's other defining criteria for materiality don't actually rule out the existence of motionless matter.

 

Anyway, as these passages reveal, Lenin characterised matter in a rather odd way: i.e., as that which exists "objectively" outside, and independently of, the mind. He also quoted Engels approvingly to the effect that motion is the "mode" of the existence of matter.

 

But, if all motion is relative to a given reference frame, then it is entirely possible to picture certain bodies as motionless with respect to some frame or other. The contrary view may only be maintained if space is held to be Absolute. That condition aside, this means that motion is reference frame-sensitive. If it can disappear when we change reference frames, motion can't be the mode of the existence of matter, as Lenin and Engels surmised. In which case, it is perhaps more appropriate to characterise this way of depicting motion as a form of representation and, as such, to regard it as convention-sensitive.

 

[Anyway, this form of relativity is apparently a consequence of the principle of equivalence postulated by the TOR.]

 

[TOR = Theory Of Relativity.]

 

"Form of representation" will be explained more fully Essay Thirteen Part Two; however, 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 theories are often inter-linked, or are coordinated with one another, and it seems to suggest that physics is an a-historical, non-social discipline). Thomas Kuhn's more considered thoughts about what he calls a "paradigm" is, in some respects, a little closer to what is meant by "form of representation" -- on this, see Kuhn (1970, 1977, 1996, 2000). See also Lakatos and Musgrave (1970) -- especially Masterman (1970) --, as well as Sharrock and Reed (2002). This topic is also connected with Wittgenstein's ideas about "criteria" and "symptoms". [On that, see here. Cf., also, Glock (1996), pp.129-35.] As noted above, I will say more about this in Essay Thirteen Part Two.

 

Update October 2011: A recent example of the employment of just such a form of representation (or, rather, several such forms) might assist the reader understand this phrase a little more clearly. In late September 2011, the news media were full of stories about an experiment that appeared to show that a beam of neutrinos had exceeded the speed of light. Here is how the New Scientist handled the story (the relevant aspects of a range of different but intersecting forms of representation being employed here -- albeit expressed rather sketchily -- have been highlighted in bold):

 

"'Light-speed' neutrinos point to new physical reality.

 

"Subatomic particles have broken the universe's fundamental speed limit, or so it was reported last week. The speed of light is the ultimate limit on travel in the universe, and the basis for Einstein's special theory of relativity, so if the finding stands up to scrutiny, does it spell the end for physics as we know it? The reality is less simplistic and far more interesting. 'People were saying this means Einstein is wrong,' says physicist Heinrich Päs of the Technical University of Dortmund in Germany. 'But that's not really correct.'

 

"Instead, the result could be the first evidence for a reality built out of extra dimensions. Future historians of science may regard it not as the moment we abandoned Einstein and broke physics, but rather as the point at which our view of space vastly expanded, from three dimensions to four, or more. 'This may be a physics revolution,' says Thomas Weiler at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, who has devised theories built on extra dimensions. 'The famous words 'paradigm shift' are used too often and tritely, but they might be relevant.'

 

"The subatomic particles -- neutrinos -- seem to have zipped faster than light from CERN, near Geneva, Switzerland, to the OPERA detector at the Gran Sasso lab near L'Aquila, Italy. It's a conceptually simple result: neutrinos making the 730-kilometre journey arrived 60 nanoseconds earlier than they would have if they were travelling at light speed. And it relies on three seemingly simple measurements, says Dario Autiero of the Institute of Nuclear Physics in Lyon, France, a member of the OPERA collaboration: the distance between the labs, the time the neutrinos left CERN, and the time they arrived at Gran Sasso.

 

"But actually measuring those times and distances to the accuracy needed to detect nanosecond differences is no easy task. The OPERA collaboration spent three years chasing down every source of error they could imagine...before Autiero made the result public in a seminar at CERN on 23 September. Physicists grilled Autiero for an hour after his talk to ensure the team had considered details like the curvature of the Earth, the tidal effects of the moon and the general relativistic effects of having two clocks at different heights (gravity slows time so a clock closer to Earth's surface runs a tiny bit slower).

 

"They were impressed. 'I want to congratulate you on this extremely beautiful experiment,' said Nobel laureate Samuel Ting of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology after Autiero's talk. 'The experiment is very carefully done, and the systematic error carefully checked.' Most physicists still expect some sort of experimental error to crop up and explain the anomaly, mainly because it contravenes the incredibly successful law of special relativity which holds that the speed of light is a constant that no object can exceed. The theory also leads to the famous equation E = mc2.

 

"Hotly anticipated are results from other neutrino detectors, including T2K in Japan and MINOS at Fermilab in Illinois, which will run similar experiments and confirm the results or rule them out (see 'Fermilab stops hunting Higgs, starts neutrino quest'). In 2007, the MINOS experiment searched for faster-than-light neutrinos but didn't see anything statistically significant. The team plans to reanalyse its data and upgrade the detector's stopwatch. 'These are the kind of things that we have to follow through, and make sure that our prejudices don't get in the way of discovering something truly fantastic,' says Stephen Parke of Fermilab.

 

"In the meantime, suggests Sandip Pakvasa of the University of Hawaii, let's suppose the OPERA result is real. If the experiment is tested and replicated and the only explanation is faster-than-light neutrinos, is E = mc2 done for? Not necessarily. In 2006, Pakvasa, Päs and Weiler came up with a model that allows certain particles to break the cosmic speed limit while leaving special relativity intact. 'One can, if not rescue Einstein, at least leave him valid,' Weiler says.

 

"The trick is to send neutrinos on a shortcut through a fourth, thus-far-unobserved dimension of space, reducing the distance they have to travel. Then the neutrinos wouldn't have to outstrip light to reach their destination in the observed time. In such a universe, the particles and forces we are familiar with are anchored to a four-dimensional membrane, or 'brane', with three dimensions of space and one of time. Crucially, the brane floats in a higher dimensional space-time called the bulk, which we are normally completely oblivious to.

 

"The fantastic success of special relativity up to now, plus other cosmological observations, have led physicists to think that the brane might be flat, like a sheet of paper. Quantum fluctuations could make it ripple and roll like the surface of the ocean, Weiler says. Then, if neutrinos can break free of the brane, they might get from one point on it to another by dashing through the bulk, like a flying fish taking a shortcut between the waves....

 

"This model is attractive because it offers a way out of one of the biggest theoretical problems posed by the OPERA result: busting the apparent speed limit set by neutrinos detected pouring from a supernova in 1987. As stars explode in a supernova, most of their energy streams out as neutrinos. These particles hardly ever interact with matter (see 'Neutrinos: Everything you need to know'). That means they should escape the star almost immediately, while photons of light will take about 3 hours. In 1987, trillions of neutrinos arrived at Earth 3 hours before the dying star's light caught up. If the neutrinos were travelling as fast as those going from CERN to OPERA, they should have arrived in 1982.

 

"OPERA's neutrinos were about 1000 times as energetic as the supernova's neutrinos, though. And Pakvasa and colleagues' model calls for neutrinos with a specific energy that makes them prefer tunnelling through the bulk to travelling along the brane. If that energy is around 20 gigaelectronvolts -- and the team don't yet know that it is -- 'then you expect large effects in the OPERA region, and small effects at the supernova energies,' Pakvasa says. He and Päs are meeting next week to work out the details.

 

"The flying fish shortcut isn't available to all particles. In the language of string theory, a mathematical model some physicists hope will lead to a comprehensive 'theory of everything', most particles are represented by tiny vibrating strings whose ends are permanently stuck to the brane. One of the only exceptions is the theoretical 'sterile neutrino', represented by a closed loop of string. These are also the only type of neutrino thought capable of escaping the brane.

 

"Neutrinos are known to switch back and forth between their three observed types (electron, muon and tau neutrinos), and OPERA was originally designed to detect these shifts. In Pakvasa's model, the muon neutrinos produced at CERN could have transformed to sterile neutrinos mid-flight, made a short hop through the bulk, and then switched back to muon before reappearing on the brane.

 

"So if OPERA's results hold up, they could provide support for the existence of sterile neutrinos, extra dimensions and perhaps string theory. Such theories could also explain why gravity is so weak compared with the other fundamental forces. The theoretical particles that mediate gravity, known as gravitons, may also be closed loops of string that leak off into the bulk. 'If, in the end, nobody sees anything wrong and other people reproduce OPERA's results, then I think it's evidence for string theory, in that string theory is what makes extra dimensions credible in the first place,' Weiler says.

 

"Meanwhile, alternative theories are likely to abound. Weiler expects papers to appear in a matter of days or weeks. Even if relativity is pushed aside, Einstein has worked so well for so long that he will never really go away. At worst, relativity will turn out to work for most of the universe but not all, just as Newton's mechanics work until things get extremely large or small. 'The fact that Einstein has worked for 106 years means he'll always be there, either as the right answer or a low-energy effective theory,' Weiler says." [Grossman (2011), pp.7-9. Bold emphases added; quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Some links added. Several paragraphs merged to save space. 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 -- analogously like the square or the triangular mesh to which Wittgenstein alluded above --, in order to make sense of, or interpret, experimental evidence, even if the latter might seem to have refuted already accepted theory, so that it no longer appears to contradict it. This approach also sanctions certain inferences as 'legitimate', others as 'illegitimate' or 'suspect'. In this way, too, scientists police their own discipline (otherwise known as "peer review").

 

[QM = Quantum Mechanics.]

 

As we now know, a series of errors was discovered in the above readings, meaning that this experiment in the end failed to threaten fundamental tenets of modern physics. But, other forms of representation were used to decide even this! It is interesting to note, however, that some scientists were quite happy to weave these bogus results -- before they were 'exposed' -- into new, or into other, theories in order to make sense of them, so that this anomalous data (rather than accepted theory) remained 'valid'. The significance of that observation will become clearer in Essay Thirteen Part Two.

 

Returning to the main theme (i.e., whether or not motion is reference-frame sensitive or a mode of the existence of matter): Some might think that QM has shown this to be incorrect (in that it holds that all forms of matter are in ceaseless motion), but this is 'true' only because of a theoretical inference; there is no conceivable way that this supposedly universal truth can be confirmed throughout nature, for all of time. In that case, it has to be read into nature, or imposed on it, metaphysically -- or, indeed, perhaps also as a "form of representation" in its own right.

 

But, even if it could be confirmed, the depiction of motion as the "mode" of the existence of matter (rather than as a highly confirmed property of matter) would still depend on space being Absolute. Moreover, there is no conceivable observation, or body of observations, that could confirm the supposed fact that motion is 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 (or excitations of 'the field'), but, even if such particles were viewed as probability waves (or the like), the specification of a 'particle's' probable velocity (relative to some frame) would similarly mean it was zero. [On this in general, see Castellani (1998).]

 

It could be argued that this just shows that all bodies are in constant motion relative to one another, which is all that DM-theorists need. But, as was pointed out above, even then motion would still be reference-fame sensitive and hence it couldn't be 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 hold water.

 

It could be objected once more that Lenin's views aren't metaphysical. That objection might itself be based on Engels's own loose characterisation of Metaphysics:

 

"To the metaphysician, things and their mental reflexes, ideas, are isolated, are to be considered one after the other and apart from each other, are objects of investigation fixed, rigid, given once for all. He thinks in absolutely irreconcilable antitheses. 'His communication is "yea, yea; nay, nay"; for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.' [Matthew 5:37. -- Ed.] For him a thing either exists or does not exist; a thing cannot at the same time be itself and something else. Positive and negative absolutely exclude one another, cause and effect stand in a rigid antithesis one to the other.

 

"At first sight this mode of thinking seems to us very luminous, because it is that of so-called sound common sense. Only sound common sense, respectable fellow that he is, in the homely realm of his own four walls, has very wonderful adventures directly he ventures out into the wide world of research. And the metaphysical mode of thought, justifiable and even necessary as it is in a number of domains whose extent varies according to the nature of the particular object of investigation, sooner or later reaches a limit, beyond which it becomes one-sided, restricted, abstract, lost in insoluble contradictions. In the contemplation of individual things it forgets the connection between them; in the contemplation of their existence, it forgets the beginning and end of that existence; of their repose, it forgets their motion. It cannot see the wood for the trees." [Engels (1976), p.26. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Italic emphasis in the original.]

 

Other DM-fans have endorsed this view of Metaphysics (as we will see below)

 

So, Engels appears to believe that metaphysicians are committed to the belief that:

 

(1) "Things" exist in isolated units with no interconnections.

 

(2) They don't change.

 

(3) They exist in "irreconcilable antitheses", which appears to imply that the LEM applies across the board.

 

Furthermore:

 

(4) Metaphysics is the same as, or is expressed by, "commonsense", which works reasonably well in everyday circumstances, but beyond that, in scientific, or even philosophical surroundings, it soon becomes "one-sided, restricted, abstract, lost in insoluble contradictions", and, among other things, it can't see "the wood for the trees".

 

[LEM = Law Of Excluded Middle.]

 

Given the above description, it could be argued that DM isn't metaphysical.

 

First of all, Engels offered his readers absolutely no evidence in support of these sweeping allegations (for example, from the History of Philosophy).

 

Second, there have been countless Philosophers and Mystics who believed that everything is interconnected -- and which changed as a result of a "unity of opposites". [On that, see here, here and here.] Of course, DM-supporters classify thinkers like this as fellow-travellers (of sorts), who thought 'dialectically' not metaphysically. However, it is even more revealing to classify this tradition as just another strand of the ideas of the ruling-class that always rule.

 

Third, we have already seen that it is impossible to make sense of DM-criticisms of the LEM -- on that see here. If so, 'commonsense' (whatever it is!) would be well advised to stick with the LEM.

 

Finally, in the Essays posted at this site, we have witnessed DM-theses regularly collapse into incoherence, so there is little room for DM-fans to crow about the superiority of their theory. Indeed, Essay Seven Part Three shows that if, per impossible, DM were true, change would be impossible. 

 

However, Engels's depiction of Metaphysics would unfortunately rule out as non-metaphysical much of previous 'non-dialectical' philosophy. Even Plato would have admitted that things change (albeit if only with respect to appearances).

 

It could be countered that this is incorrect; only DM pictures things as fundamentally changeable, fundamentally Heraclitean, and only DM relates this to change through internal contradiction (etc.). Well, we have seen (here, here and here) that this isn't really so; even in DM, some things stay the same until or unless a sufficient quantitative change induces a commensurate qualitative change -- namely, and at least including, all those "essences" that Hegel borrowed from Aristotle, which Engels also unwisely appropriated from one of both of them -- just as some things are 'relatively stable' (whatever that means!).

 

"It is even more important to remember this point when we are talking about connections between phenomena that are in the process of development. In the whole world there is no developing object in which one cannot find opposite sides, elements or tendencies: stability and change, old and new, and so on. The dialectical principle of contradiction reflects a dualistic relationship within the whole: the unity of opposites and their struggle. Opposites may come into conflict only to the extent that they form a whole in which one element is as necessary as another. This necessity for opposing elements is what constitutes the life of the whole. Moreover, the unity of opposites, expressing the stability of an object, is relative and transient, while the struggle of opposites is absolute, ex-pressing the infinity of the process of development. This is because contradiction is not only a relationship between opposite tendencies in an object or between opposite objects, but also the relationship of the object to itself, that is to say, its constant self-negation. The fabric of all life is woven out of two kinds of thread, positive and negative, new and old, progressive and reactionary. They are constantly in conflict, fighting each other." [Spirkin (1983), pp.143-144. Bold emphasis alone added. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.]

 

"All rest is however relative, while motion and change are absolute. This is to be understood as an indication of the self-activity of matter, rather than in the sense that motion is possible without rest.... Any state is temporary and transient, and any thing or phenomena has a beginning and end to its existence. The motion of matter is uncreatable and indestructible. It can only change its forms. No single phenomenon or object can lose its ability to change or be deprived of motion under any conditions....

 

"The source of the internal activity of matter lies within it, in its inherent potentiality for the perpetual changeability of its concrete shape and form of existence. Motion is absolute, for it is unrelated to anything external that could determine it. There is nothing else in the world except eternally moving matter, its forms, properties and manifestations...." [Kharin (1981), pp.62-63. Bold emphases added.]

 

"To say that everything is in a constant process of development and change is not, of course, to deny that things can be relatively unchanging and stationary. It is, however, to say that rest is 'conditional, temporary, transitory [and] relative' whereas 'development and motion are absolute'.... [Sayers (1980a), p.4. Sayers is here quoting Lenin (1961), p.358, and not p.360 as Sayers has it. Bold emphasis added.]

 

It isn't easy to see how the above can be reconciled with the idea that "motion is the mode of existence of matter".

 

Be this as it may, Engels's view of Metaphysics is in fact a rather crude version of Hegel's opinion on this topic. As Houlgate points out:

 

"Metaphysics is characterised in the Encyclopedia first and foremost by the belief that the categories of thought constitute 'the fundamental determinations of things'....

 

"The method of metaphysical philosophy, Hegel maintains, involves attributing predicates to given subjects, in judgements. Moreover just as the subject-matter of metaphysics consists of distinct entities, so the qualities to be predicated of those entities are held to be valid by themselves.... Of any two opposing predicates, therefore, metaphysics assumes that one must be false if the other is true. Metaphysical philosophy is thus described by Hegel as 'either/or' thinking because it treats predicates or determinations of thought as mutually exclusive, 'as if each of the two terms in an anti-thesis...has an independent, isolated existence as something substantial and true by itself.' The world either has a beginning and end in time or it does not; matter is either infinitely divisible or it is not; man is either a rigidly determined being or he is not. In this mutual exclusivity, Hegel believes, lies the dogmatism of metaphysics. In spite of the fact that metaphysics deals with infinite objects, therefore, these objects are rendered finite by the employment of mutually exclusive, one-sided determinations -- 'categories the limits of which are believed to be permanently fixed, and not subject to any further negation.'" [Houlgate (2004), pp.100-01.]

 

But, as has been argued elsewhere at this site, this puts Hegel himself in something of a bind, for he certainly believed that metaphysics was this but not that (i.e., it was either this or it was that, not both) -- meaning that even he had to apply the LEM to make his point!

 

Of course, it could be argued that the above observations aren't "judgements" about the fundamental nature of things -- but then again, that objection itself must use the LEM to make its point, for it takes as granted that the above paragraph is saying this, but not that (again, that it was either this or it was that, not both) about the fundamental nature of things. Indeed, even Hegel's conclusions about the content of any metaphysical 'judgement' (i.e., that it says either this or that, not both) would require the (implicit, or explicit) use of the LEM.

 

We can go further, any 'leap' into 'speculative' thought to the effect that this or that, or whatever, has been 'negated', must implicate the LEM, too; for it will either be the case, or it will not, that for any randomly-selected dialectical 'negation', it will have taken place, or it won't have. Naturally, this would imply that Hegel's thought (and that of anyone who agrees with him) -- i.e., that Hegel said this or that, not both -- was as metaphysical as anything Parmenides or Plato promulgated.

 

That is, if we were 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) aren't so easily side-stepped, even by a thinker of "genius".

 

[Again, on the LEM and Hegel, see Essay Nine Part One.]

 

Independently of that, it might be wondered: what marvellous solution to the antinomy concerning the origin of the universe did Houlgate manage to find in Hegel's work? Or even the infinite divisibility of matter? Apparently only this: "Oh dear! It's all so contradictory!"

 

Well, that sorts things out and no mistake.

 

Next question...  

 

Hegel's ideas, and not science, were the source of Engels's confused musings, although, oddly enough, much of what Hegel had to say about Metaphysics in the Preface to the First Edition of The Science of Logic agrees with much of what is said about it in this Essay (even though he also drops a heavy hint that this characterisation is now obsolete, or so he thought). Here is part of it:

 

"That which, prior to this period, was called metaphysics has been, so to speak, extirpated root and branch and has vanished from the ranks of the sciences. The ontology, rational psychology, cosmology, yes even natural theology, of former times -- where is now to be heard any mention of them, or who would venture to mention them? Inquiries, for instance, into the immateriality of the soul, into efficient and final causes, where should these still arouse any interest? Even the former proofs of the existence of God are cited only for their historical interest or for purposes of edification and uplifting the emotions. The fact is that there no longer exists any interest either in the form or the content of metaphysics or in both together. If it is remarkable when a nation has become indifferent to its constitutional theory, to its national sentiments, its ethical customs and virtues, it is certainly no less remarkable when a nation loses its metaphysics, when the spirit which contemplates its own pure essence is no longer a present reality in the life of the nation.

 

"The exoteric teaching of the Kantian philosophy -- that the understanding ought not to go beyond experience, else the cognitive faculty will become a theoretical reason which by itself generates nothing but fantasies of the brain -- this was a justification from a philosophical quarter for the renunciation of speculative thought. In support of this popular teaching came the cry of modern educationists that the needs of the time demanded attention to immediate requirements, that just as experience was the primary factor for knowledge, so for skill in public and private life, practice and practical training generally were essential and alone necessary, theoretical insight being harmful even. Philosophy [Wissenschaft] and ordinary common sense thus co-operating to bring about the downfall of metaphysics, there was seen the strange spectacle of a cultured nation without metaphysics -- like a temple richly ornamented in other respects but without a holy of holies. Theology, which in former times was the guardian of the speculative mysteries and of metaphysics (although this was subordinate to it) had given up this science in exchange for feelings, for what was popularly matter-of-fact, and for historical erudition. In keeping with this change, there vanished from the world those solitary souls who were sacrificed by their people and exiled from the world to the end that the eternal should be contemplated and served by lives devoted solely thereto -- not for any practical gain but for the sake of blessedness; a disappearance which, in another context, can be regarded as essentially the same phenomenon as that previously mentioned. So that having got rid of the dark utterances of metaphysics, of the colourless communion of the spirit with itself, outer existence seemed to be transformed into the bright world of flowers -- and there are no black flowers (there are now! -- RL), as we know." [Hegel (1999), pp.25-26, §§2-3. Bold emphases alone added. Minor typo corrected; I have informed the on-line editors.]

 

We have also seen that Hegel's ideas were the main source of the slippery reasoning one encounters time and again in 'dialectical thought' -- the kind that 'allows' dialecticians to ignore the contradictions and equivocations in their own theory while pointing fingers at others for the very same alleged sins. [More on that here and here.]

 

However, Cornforth (1950) presents two main arguments aimed at countering the standard view of Metaphysics I have employed in this Essay:

 

(1) Cornforth claims that the modern characterisation of Metaphysics derives from John Locke (p.94), even though Cornforth himself had already pointed out that the term was in fact introduced by Aristotle (p.93). [And it seems to be inconsistent with Hegel's depiction of it, above.] He makes this connection because he wants to maintain that modern Philosophers reject Aristotle's search for the "essential nature of the real" (p.94), deliberately running-together the ideas of the Positivists he is attacking with the views of every modern (non-Communist) Philosopher. This allows him to reject the Positivists' interpretation understanding of Metaphysics as if it were held by each and every one of the latter!

 

First of all, even when Cornforth was writing this (circa 1950), only a tiny minority of Analytic Philosophers (never mind the rest) 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 in this Essay, which in no way depends on Locke. [Although Cornforth is right when he says that Empiricism and Positivism are both metaphysical; but then so is DM.]

 

Second, even if every (non-communist) Philosopher on the planet in 1950 had been a Positivist, it is clear that they would have rejected Metaphysics because, as Positivists, they would 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 this is so -- not even one citation! Anyone who reads the work of the Positivists, or even the Logical Positivists, will see that they weren't just hung up on the nature of "substance" (which Cornforth focuses on simply because of what Locke had said about it), but all areas of Traditional Metaphysics.

 

A good place to start here is Ayer (2001) -- this links to a PDF -- which is an excellent representative of the simplistic wing of Logical Positivism; a more substantial version can be found in, say, Carnap (1950). [See also Carnap (1931) -- 'The Elimination Of Metaphysics Through The Logical Analysis Of Language'.]

 

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

 

[I would recommend Soames (2003a, 2003b), here, but 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 with the conventions adopted at this site.]

 

To be sure, metaphysical ideas have dominated much of science, but that is because "the ideas of the ruling-class always rule". And yet, science has progressively distanced itself from the influence of metaphysics, especially in areas where an interface with the material world becomes paramount (for instance, in Chemistry, Geology, much of Biology, most of Physics -- and, of course, Technology). [Why this is so will discussed in Essay Thirteen Part Two.]

 

Even so, Cornforth's argument still depends on the unsupported claim that Metaphysics is as he says Positivists define it.

 

Anyway, Cornforth is being disingenuous here, for DM itself goes way beyond modern science in seeking to pontificate, for example, about motion, telling us that it is "the mode of the existence of matter", or that it is "contradictory" -- or, indeed, about the "essence of Being" ("Thing-in-Itself"), the "interpenetration of opposites", the "negation of the negation", and so on. These vague and dubious 'concepts' certainly fit the traditional interpretation of Metaphysics.

 

To be sure, the exact boundary between Metaphysics and Science might be hard to define, but that doesn't mean there is no difference between the two. There is a difference between night and day even though the boundary between them is impossible to delineate. [Again, I will say more about this in Essay Thirteen Part Two.]

 

These appear to be the only two substantive arguments Cornforth offered in support of his rejection of the traditional interpretation of Metaphysics, and thus in favour of his adoption of the characterisation he found in Hegel and Engels (pp.95-98) -- although, oddly enough, Cornforth doesn't mention from whom Engels pinched this idea. But, it is quite clear that all three had to modify considerably the meaning of "Metaphysics" to make this fanciful story even so much as seem to work, and in order to distinguish Metaphysics from DM (pp.98-101). This is, of course, just another excellent example of the sort of special pleading DM-fans are well practised at invoking.

 

Of course, all this is independent of Marx's own characterisation of Metaphysics. For example, in The Poverty of Philosophy, he had this to say:

 

"We shall now have to talk metaphysics while talking political economy. And in this again we shall but follow M. Proudhon's 'contradictions.' Just now he forced us to speak English, to become pretty well English ourselves. Now the scene is changing. M. Proudhon is transporting us to our dear fatherland and is forcing us, whether we like it or not, to become German again.

 

"If the Englishman transforms men into hats, the German transforms hats into ideas. The Englishman is Ricardo, rich banker and distinguished economist; the German is Hegel, simple professor at the University of Berlin.

 

"Louis XV, the last absolute monarch and representative of the decadence of French royalty, had attached to his person a physician who was himself France's first economist. This doctor, this economist, represented the imminent and certain triumph of the French bourgeoisie. Doctor Quesnay made a science out of political economy; he summarized it in his famous Tableau économique. Besides the thousand and one commentaries on this table which have appeared, we possess one by the doctor himself. It is the 'Analysis of the Economic Table,' followed by 'seven important observations.'

 

"M. Proudhon is another Dr. Quesnay. He is the Quesnay of the metaphysics of political economy.

 

"Now metaphysics -- indeed all philosophy -- can be summed up, according to Hegel, in method. We must, therefore, try to elucidate the method of M. Proudhon, which is at least as foggy as the Economic Table. It is for this reason that we are making seven more or less important observations. If Dr. Proudhon is not pleased with our observations, well, then, he will have to become an Abbé Baudeau and give the 'explanation of the economico-metaphysical method' himself....

 

"Apply this method to the categories of political economy and you have the logic and metaphysics of political economy, or, in other words, you have the economic categories that everybody knows, translated into a little-known language which makes them look as if they had never blossomed forth in an intellect of pure reason; so much do these categories seem to engender one another, to be linked up and intertwined with one another by the very working of the dialectic movement. The reader must not get alarmed at these metaphysics with all their scaffolding of categories, groups, series, and systems. M. Proudhon, in spite of all the trouble he has taken to scale the heights of the system of contradictions, has never been able to raise himself above the first two rungs of simple thesis and antithesis; and even these he has mounted only twice, and on one of these two occasions he fell over backwards." [Marx (1976), pp.161-65. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Links added. I have used the on-line version here, but have corrected any typos I managed to spot.]

 

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

 

Be this as it may, I don't want to get hung up on a terminological point, so I recommend that anyone who objects to the usual definition of "Metaphysics" (and its cognates) -- or even the phrase "Traditional Philosophy" -- used 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."

 

The above is a description of Metaphysics over at Wikipedia, which is, I think, reasonably accurate, if a little brief. The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy is a little more specific:

 

"Metaphysics, most generally the philosophical investigation of the nature, constitution, and structure of reality. It is broader in scope than science..., since one of its traditional concerns is the existence of non-physical entities, e.g., God. It is also more fundamental, since it investigates questions science does not address but the answers to which it presupposes. Are there, for instance, physical objects at all, and does every event have a cause?" [Butchvarov (1999), p.563.]

 

Here is how the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy characterises 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 with 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 understand nature, ourselves and our place in it through the lens of language, though not self-consciously so. This fascination and misunderstanding is a consequence of our alienation from our collective agency. While humanity shapes and is shaped by nature and our concepts, this collective capacity doesn't extend to individual human beings. We create concepts in an never-ending exchange with nature, but you and I as individual human beings are inducted into a community of language-users of an already formed language and brought forth into an already reformed world. We -- collectively and individually -- we are ignorant of our own history." [Quoted from here. Italics in the original. The rest of this article is an excellent antidote to the idea that Marx was a philosopher. Typo corrected; link added.]

 

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 fashion.

 

DM-theorists also ask and attempt to answer similar questions along similar lines, albeit with a view to changing the world. Indeed, they have adopted much the same approach to Philosophy as the Traditional Metaphysicians to whom Moser (above) alludes -- that is, they attempt to derive fundamental truths about reality from a handful of jargonised expressions, which are then imposed on nature, valid for all of space and time.

 

[This was demonstrated in detail in Essay Two. Precisely how this series of verbal tricks works is, of course, the subject of Parts One to Seven of the present Essay! See also Essay Three Part One.]

 

As far as the attempt to define Metaphysics as the study of things that don't change, this is what the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy had to say:

 

"Ancient and Medieval philosophers might have said that metaphysics was, like chemistry or astrology, to be defined by its subject matter: metaphysics was the 'science' that studied 'being as such' or 'the first causes of things' or 'things that do not change.' It is no longer possible to define metaphysics that way, and for two reasons. First, a philosopher who denied the existence of those things that had once been seen as constituting the subject-matter of metaphysics -- first causes or unchanging things -- would now be considered to be making thereby a metaphysical assertion. Secondly, there are many philosophical problems that are now considered to be metaphysical problems (or at least partly metaphysical problems) that are in no way related to first causes or unchanging things; the problem of free will, for example, or the problem of the mental and the physical." [Quoted from here. Quotation marks altered to conform with 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. For a useful review of many attempts to define Metaphysics, see Moore (2013), pp.1-22 -- although, it is revealing that philosophers can't even agree what this word means!

 

This underlines what I posted on Quora recently (in answer to the question: "Where should I begin if I want to study Philosophy?"):

 

First, dial down your expectations. Not one single 'philosophical problem' posed by Ancient Greek thinkers (or any others since) has been solved, or even remotely solved. Nor are they likely to be. After 2500 years of this, we don't even know the right questions to ask, for goodness sake!


As Oxford University Philosopher, Peter Hacker, noted:


"For two and a half millennia some of the best minds in European culture have wrestled with the problems of philosophy. If one were to ask what knowledge has been achieved throughout these twenty-five centuries, what theories have been established (on the model of well-confirmed theories in the natural sciences), what laws have been discovered (on the model of the laws of physics and chemistry), or where one can find the corpus of philosophical propositions known to be true, silence must surely ensue. For there is no body of philosophical knowledge. There are no well-established philosophical theories or laws. And there are no philosophical handbooks on the model of handbooks of dynamics or of biochemistry. To be sure, it is tempting for contemporary philosophers, convinced they are hot on the trail of the truths and theories which so long evaded the grasp of their forefathers, to claim that philosophy has only just struggled out of its early stage into maturity.... We can at long last expect a flood of new, startling and satisfying results -- tomorrow.

"One can blow the Last Trumpet once, not once a century. In the seventeenth century Descartes thought he had discovered the definitive method for attaining philosophical truths; in the eighteenth century Kant believed that he had set metaphysics upon the true path of a science; in the nineteenth century Hegel convinced himself that he had brought the history of thought to its culmination; and Russell, early in the twentieth century, claimed that he had at last found the correct scientific method in philosophy, which would assure the subject the kind of steady progress that is attained by the natural sciences. One may well harbour doubts about further millenarian promises." [Hacker (2001c), pp.322-23.]


Second, begin with Bertrand Russell's Problems of Philosophy, which as about as good an introduction to Traditional Philosophy as you could wish to find -- which is also well written. Then, perhaps read some of the more accessible 'classics', such Descartes's Meditations, or his Discourse, Hume's Enquiries, Berkeley's Three Dialogues, Plato's Republic, or his Meno (Aristotle is, alas, far too difficult!), Kant's Prolegomena To Any Future Metaphysics -- steer clear of Hegel (who is impossibly difficult).

 

All of the above (except Hacker) -- and much more besides -- are available here:

 

http://people.brandeis.edu/~teuber/philclassics.html

 

Then, check out a completely different approach to the subject:

 

Ludwig Wittgenstein's Blue Book.

 

http://www.geocities.jp/mickindex/wittgenstein/witt_blue_en.html

 

Traditionally Philosophy has been regarded as a sort of 'super-science', a discipline capable of revealing fundamental truths about 'reality', valid for all of space and time, ascertainable from thought, or from language, alone -- or, indeed, as some sort of uniquely authoritative moral or political guide, or perhaps even a clue to the 'meaning of life'. But it isn't like any science you have ever heard of. Traditional Philosophers typically spend a few hours in the comfort of their own heads -- by-passing all those boring observations and experiments, with their expensive equipment and a requirement that the individual concerned becomes technically competent --, and, hey presto, they emerge with a set of super-cosmic verities.

 

This isn't to deny that some philosophers engaged in empirical work -- for example, Aristotle -- but that wasn't a core aspect of their work. Moreover, the sciences have gradually freed themselves from Traditional Philosophy by subjecting their work to empirical test (howsoever one interprets this). Nor is it to deny that scientists don't indulge in amateur metaphysics (especially in their popularisations), speculating about the nature of space or time, for example.

 

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/metaphysics/

 

But, Traditional Philosophy is quintessentially a 'conceptual enquiry', which, directly or indirectly, revolves around what certain words mean (such as, 'time', 'space', 'matter', 'knowledge', 'belief', 'existence', 'identity', 'meaning', 'language', 'causation', 'justice', 'freedom', 'fate', 'good', 'evil', 'god', 'soul', etc., etc.), but this is in fact provides us with a clue to its fatal defects, and why it hasn't advanced one nanometre closer to a 'solution' to its 'problems' than Plato or Aristotle themselves managed.

 

I have attempted to explain why that is so, here (using Wittgenstein's ideas):

 

http://www.anti-dialectics.co.uk/Why_all_philosophical_theories_are_non-sensical.htm

 

[Which essay actually part of a political debate on the Marxist left. But you don't have to know anything about the latter to follow my argument!]

 

The deflationary approach to Metaphysics adopted at this site is discussed in more detail in Baker (2004b), and Rorty (1980) -- however, concerning Rorty's work, readers should note the caveats I have posted 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, 'only at the margins', as it were -- for example, a handful expressed in Ayer (2001), pp.1-29. [This links to a PDF.]

 

Even so, the differences between my ideas and those expressed by LP-ers are quite profound. For instance, I am not offering a criterion of meaning (in fact, I hardly mention this term (i.e., "meaning") as LP-ers intended it to be understood in this Essay. Moreover, and by way of contrast, I begin with how we ordinarily understand empirical or factual propositions, and to that end I use a term Wittgenstein introduced, "sense", to capture it. This approach shows that the LP-ers got things the wrong way round; it is our grasp of the sense of a proposition that enables us to determine whether or not it is capable of being verified or falsified, not the other way round. As I point out, if we didn't already understand a given proposition, we wouldn't be able to verify/falsify it, or, for that matter, know whether or not it is capable of being verified/falsified. Indeed, how would anyone go about trying to verify a proposition they hadn't already understood? Finally, "meaning" is a highly complex term that was grossly oversimplified by the LP-ers. [I say more about this in Essay Thirteen Part Three; see also here, and below.]

 

So, verification can't be a fundamental, or even a significant, factor in connection with our ordinary use of factual language. Hence, even though The Verification Principle has now been totally abandoned, its defects (real or imagined) have absolutely nothing to do with the ideas expressed in this Essay, or at this site.

 

2. Again, Essay Two highlighted the many occasions where modal terminology was employed by DM-theorists in place of more tentative or reasonable summaries of the available evidence, or to beef up their use of the indicative mood.

 

Here are a few such passages from the DM-classicists and 'lesser' DM-luminaries:

 

"Dialectics requires an all-round consideration of relationships in their concrete development…. Dialectical logic demands that we go further…. [It] requires that an object should be taken in development, in 'self-movement' (as Hegel sometimes puts it)…." [Lenin (1921), pp.90. Bold emphases added.]

 

"As we already know that all things change, all things are 'in flux', it is certain that such an absolute state of rest cannot possibly exist. We must therefore reject a condition in which there is no 'contradiction between opposing and colliding forces' no disturbance of equilibrium, but only an absolute immutability…." [Bukharin (1925), p.73. Bold emphases added.]

 

"As opposed to the metaphysical world outlook, the world outlook of materialist dialectics holds that in order to understand the development of a thing we should study it internally and in its relations with other things; in other words, the development of things should be seen as their internal and necessary self-movement, while each thing in its movement is interrelated with and interacts on the things around it. The fundamental cause of the development of a thing is not external but internal; it lies in the contradictoriness within the thing. There is internal contradiction in every single thing, hence its motion and development...." [Mao (1961), pp.313. Bold emphasis added.]

 

"The negative electrical polecannot exist without the simultaneous presence of the positive electrical pole…. This 'unity of opposites' is therefore found in the core of all material things and events.

 

"Both attraction and repulsion are necessary properties of matter. Each attraction in one place is necessarily compensated for by a corresponding repulsion in another place…." [Conze (1944), pp.35-36. Bold emphases 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 (1995/2007), pp.65-68. Bold emphases added.]

 

[See also this Essay, above.]

 

3. Plainly, this isn't meant to be an exhaustive list of such sentences; the examples listed were chosen to make a particular point about the connection between metaphysical sentences and what look like ordinary empirical propositions. Several more examples, taken from Traditional Metaphysics and DM-sources, have been posted below.

 

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, I will have to qualify this comment later on in this Essay, since it is clear that mathematical propositions can't be true in the same way that empirical propositions plainly can.

 

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

 

M9: Motion is inseparable from matter.

 

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

 

M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.

 

Certainly, human beings have to live in this very material world to be able to assert things like M9 -- if only to learn what the relevant words mean. But, as we will see later, even though ordinary-looking words are being used in such sentences, they (or, rather, the novel expressions invented by metaphysicians and the ordinary words they use in radically new ways) can't be part of the vernacular, as Glock pointed out above.

 

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

 

In response, it could be argued that M9 is a general proposition whereas M6 is particular.

 

That is undeniable -- but it isn't relevant. Consider another general, but no less empirical proposition:

 

E1: All badgers living within a five mile radius of the centre of Luton on August 25th 2017 have eaten hazel nuts at least once that day.

 

Now, you can 'reflect' on E1 until the cows next evolve, but that will still fail to tell you whether or not it is true. Even though E1 might never be fully confirmed (although it wouldn't be impossible to do so if it were 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 and what will confute it, even if we never succeed in ascertaining either, and have no desire to do so.

 

That isn't 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 has been included in this list not just because of its connection with M1a and other DM-theses, but because dialecticians appear to regard it (or, P4) as an a priori truth which they feel they can assert dogmatically --, or, rather, the language they employ makes it difficult to defend them from just such an accusation.

 

However, even though M9 might look self-evident to DM-theorists, not everyone would agree. Up until relatively recently (i.e., before, say, 1600), the idea that matter was naturally motionless (or, rather, the belief that effort had to be expended in order to put material bodies into motion and keep them moving) was uncontroversial. Indeed, 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 (or, to be more honest, Aristotelians had to die out before there such  a conceptual shift became possible). Of course, that conceptual development was itself motivated by NeoPlatonic and Hermetic currents in Europe at the time, and wasn't based on observation, either.

 

M9: Motion is inseparable from matter.

 

M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.

 

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

 

[References supporting the above assertions can be accessed here.] The idea that matter is self-moving originated in Plato, but it is arguable that it pre-dated even him; on that see here.] We have also seen -- here and here -- that the thesis that matter is self-moving would in fact make of Newtonian mechanics obsolete, and was itself based on the ancient, mystical dogma that nature is in effect a self-developing Cosmic Egg.

 

The point is, of course, that even though DM-theorists themselves believe that matter is always in motion, it is possible to think otherwise.

 

Indeed, as noted above, if a suitable reference frame is chosen, a moving body can be regarded as stationary with respect to that frame. 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 then perhaps 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 whether or not it is true --, or if M6a were in fact the case:

 

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

 

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

 

On the other hand, if neither were the case (whether we knew it 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, a sure sign of 'formal thinking' (i.e., the implication that M6 is either true or false). In response, it is worth pointing out that this endlessly recycled DM-objection is in fact self-refuting, since it, too, relies on the LEM. That is because it must be the case that any application of the LEM is either an application of the LEM or it isn't -- it can't be both. Indeed, 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 (explicitly or implicitly) in order to criticise it or highlight its supposed limitations, rendering that criticism null and void.

 

[Of course, if it is unclear whether or not a supposed application of the LEM is in fact an application of the LEM, then that, too, 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 the following:

 

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

 

and,

 

A2: It is possible to understand every word of M6 without knowing whether it is true or knowing whether it is false.

 

As will be explained later, it is implicit in the rules we have for the application of words like "empirical" and "factual" -- that is, that an empirical proposition can only assume one of two truth-values (true or false). In other words, such propositions are "bivalent" and have true-false polarity --, but it isn't part of those rules that we must know whether such a proposition is true or know whether such a proposition is false in order to understand it. All we need know is that it could be one or the other, not both. In fact, this rule lies behind the fact that we can understand such sentences before we know whether they are true or whether they are false.

 

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 an empirical proposition to begin with.

 

[I have explained this idea in greater detail below. 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. It could be objected that DM-theorists do in fact supply evidence to support this thesis. Often they appeal to the 'whole of science', or, perhaps, the 'human experience in general', in support. Molyneux (2012), quoted below, is just the latest example of DM-hand-waving, Mickey Mouse Science like this.

 

However, this doctrine also follows from the idea that motion is the "mode of the existence of matter" (i.e., P4):

 

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

 

Hence, for dialecticians these two 'concepts', matter and motion, can no more be separated than, say, the words "number" and "six".

 

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

 

"A motionless state of matter therefore proves to be one of the most empty and nonsensical of ideas…." [Engels (1976), p.74. Italic emphasis in the original.]

 

While evidence can and has been used to show that matter moves (not that this was ever in doubt!), no amount of evidence could show that motion is the "mode of the existence of matter", or that motion without matter is "unthinkable" --, that is, that matter can't exist unless it is moving, or that we can't think about it except in this way.

 

And that is what makes the 'evidential display' aired in the DM-literature the charade it is. What little evidence DM-theorists bother to scrape together is used solely illustratively; i.e., it isn't used to establish the truth of any given DM-thesis, merely to make it seem clearer, more plausible, or perhaps even more 'scientific' -- but, plainly to novices. [No independent expert in the relevant fields would accept it a proof.] In Essay Seven, this approach to knowledge was labelled "Mickey Mouse Science". And that observation is itself confirmed by the further fact that this particular thesis (about the universal nature of motion) is based on Hegel's dogmatic assertions (as is every other DM-thesis), who arrived at such conclusions before very much evidence was available.

 

Of course, this particular idea was ultimately derived from Heraclitus, who advanced claims like this 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 more than once! Unfortunately, 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 their doctrines were originally motivated by evidence, or even by a summary of the available 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 single experiment 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 idiosyncratically. These Cosmic Verities are then used as rules to interpret experience (as forms of representation -- albeit they are incoherent forms or representation, as we will see), and hence they are used to dictate to nature how it must be and how it must operate. That is, of course, why they seem so 'self-evident' to those who concoct them, why so many modal terms are used in their connection, why no confirming experiments are called for and why none are carried out. After all, has a single DM-theorist ever even so much as proposed a method for testing -- let alone actually proceeding to test -- the veracity of the vast majority of DM-theses? Why test what appear to be self-evident truths?

 

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

 

It could be objected that Trotsky, for example, did in fact propose an experiment -- whereby bags of sugar would be weighted to test the validity of the LOI. However, anyone who thinks that what Trotsky proposed could rightly be described as an "experiment" has a novel understanding of the nature of science. Since I have covered that topic at length in Essay Six, the reader is directed there for more details.

 

[LOI = Law of Identity.]

 

Unfortunately for dialecticians, this immediately divorces their 'Super-Truths' from a materialist account of nature and society. If, however, the 'truth' or the 'falsehood' of DM-theses like these is dependent on thought alone, how could these 'Cosmic Verities' be anything other than Ideal?

 

As George Novack pointed out:

 

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

 

Worse still: if DM-theses are indeed Idealist, how could they be used to help change the world?

 

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

 

Small wonder then that DM-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. [A dozen or so examples have been posted below.]

 

Admittedly, some of these pronouncements are 'supported' by a series of short, or even lengthy, arguments, which are merely used to help 'derive' these 'Super-Truths' from still other a priori theses, 'self-evident truths', assorted 'thought experiments, and stipulative definitions -- however, their 'veracity' isn't based on evidence, but on what their constituent words or concepts (and those of any supporting theses) seem to mean. They are held to be universally true, and are therefore in no need of evidential support. We saw this was the case with Engels and Lenin, whose conclusions about matter and motion followed from P4:

 

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

 

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

 

6a. Again, it could be objected that Lenin wrote a whole section in 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 of MEC to picking a fight with various Idealists, which makes much of what he had to say irrelevant to the concerns addressed in this Essay (and, indeed, irrelevant to the above objection!).

 

However, in order to consider every conceivable avenue open to DM-fans to defend Lenin, it is important to check 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 with the conventions adopted at this site.]

 

As we will see in Essay Thirteen Part One, Lenin's principal tactic when confronting ideas he doesn't like is to caricature them --, the above being a rather good example of this. "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", we have already seen that he 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, nay actual, 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/She/It' is!] Moreover, a consistent Idealist (of the sort Lenin is caricaturing) would probably conclude that while her ideas might move this doesn't imply the motion of matter, since she denies there is such a thing as matter (i.e., as conceived by materialists).

 

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 exposes 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 ideas on the fact that he had 'images' of something-or-other, and that what they 'reflect' must therefore exist. He supported this inference with a dubious claim that whatever is reflected in the mind must exist in the external world -- on that, see below.

 

But, even if we were 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 with which to compare his other images! He has no way of comparing his images with anything which isn't also an image. He couldn't jump 'out of his head' to access the world 'directly' in order to check his images against the reality he thinks they 'reflect'.

 

An appeal to practice at this point would be to no avail either, since, if Lenin were right, all he would have are images of practice!

 

[I hasten to add that this doesn't imply that I doubt the existence of the external world! But, anyone who agrees with Lenin faces serious problems, since they can only appeal to faith in support of their belief in 'objective reality'. In which case, they are in fact 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 at great length in Essay Thirteen Part One.]

 

Nevertheless, at most, all that 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 can't 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 and link 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 across his readers:

 

"Our sensation, our consciousness is only an image of the external world, and it is obvious that an image cannot exist without the thing imaged, 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 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 that 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 here, and the extended discussion here. Of course, since Lenin didn't believe in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, it is clear either he didn't really believe that "The image inevitably and of necessity implies the objective reality of that which it 'images.'", or he hadn't thought through the implications of his theory. And the same can be said of his epigones, who have uncritically swallowed this view of perception and knowledge.]

 

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 have been given later on in this Essay.

 

Again, the most 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, then, only for 'materialists' and 'matter' defined in Lenin's rather odd way. Lenin had 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 'energeticists' (i.e., those who claim that matter does not exist, or that it is simply energy) that they have 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 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 reject, what he or Engels asserts is to brand oneself an Idealist. However, since Lenin failed to show that his own ideas (supposedly about reality, 'reflected in the mind', etc.) don't 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 imaged, 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 rely on here was his own image of a mirror -- assuming that this is what lay behind his use of this ancient Hermetic metaphor. His knowledge of mirrors was his only guide when it came to using that figure of speech -- i.e., the trope concerning 'reflection'. So, all he has are images of mirrors! So, the very most this argument establishes 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 that response can only be maintained by those who reject Lenin's hopelessly confused epistemology, who don't think that all we have are these images. That is because Lenin has yet to show that there are real mirrors, as opposed to images of mirrors. Or show that these images of mirrors reflect objects as opposed to reflecting the images of images of 'objects'. His version of the traditional representative theory of knowledge, whereby we represent the world to ourselves (as 'ideas', 'concepts', 'images', or even 'representations') 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, and/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 Lenin's argument doesn't work; but, to all but true believers (or, indeed, 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:

 

"Materialism deliberately makes the 'naïve' belief of mankind the foundation of its theory of knowledge." [Ibid., p.69.]

 

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

 

Still less is it any use arguing that the human race wouldn't have survived had their images of the world not approximately, or exactly, corresponded with the world (or at least local parts of it), 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. Lenin has given us no way of producing anything other than yet-to-be-authenticated-images, since no image can authenticate itself or, indeed, validate another image.

 

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 and their beliefs! If we believe what he says, both are just 'images' in his head.

 

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 theories aren't 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 those of each insurgent class intent on replacing an old ruling elite -- or, indeed, with that of their "prize fighters". [On this, see Shaw (1989).] Having said that, there is a common thread running through each variety of ruling-class Philosophy: the doctrine that Cosmic Verities, valid for all of space and time, can be inferred from thought or language alone.

 

To be sure, the very first Greek Philosophers didn't use the word "metaphysics"; that term was introduced much later, by Aristotle. Nevertheless, the various world-views on which Super-Knowledge like this feed certainly date 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. These days 'necessary truths' tend to be defined extensionally, that is, they are said to be true in every possible world. [Kirkham (1992).] That odd idea will be examined elsewhere at this site.

 

However, this isn't to suggest that all metaphysicians attached such modal qualifications to the word "truth" -- certainly not pre-Leibniz. 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 these 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 have to say is consistent with the view adopted at this site -- but the latter 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 made about that topic in this Essay.

 

9. The ease with which all metaphysicians perform this trick (i.e., deriving necessary truths from a handful of words) isn't the only clue we have about the real nature of the hyper-bold theses Traditional Philosophers 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 them, which are equally, if not more, plausible -- would show that metaphysical theses depend on little other than a grim determination to (i) use language in odd ways and (ii) distort it.

 

Hence, it is possible to show that these 'Super-truths' decay into incoherence because (a) They undermine key semantic features of discourse, and (b) They are based on a highly specialised, limited, distorted or implausible use of language. In which case, they can't be reflections of the 'necessary' or 'essential' features of this world (or of 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 that is conducive to (1) Their interests, (2) Their determination to maintain their power and perpetuate contemporaneous relations of exploitation, or (3) 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 other Parts of that Essay.]

 

It could be argued that the philosophical language is legitimate in itself, and shouldn't be beholden to ordinary usage.

 

In response, the reader is referred back to Glock's comments above, as well as the following -- even though these words were largely aimed at Cognitive Scientists and the analogy they draw with computers, they still apply to the present 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 with the conventions adopted at this site.]

 

Hence, if philosophers use, for example, the word "knowledge" in an attempt to inform us what knowledge really is, but their use bears no relation to how that word is normally employed, then what they have to say will relate to 'knowledge', not knowledge, leaving the 'philosophical problem' of knowledge unaffected. [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 with 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 with 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.]

 

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 isn't being maintained here that leading revolutionaries adopted ruling-class ideas duplicitously or willingly. What is being alleged is that they did this unwittingly. Exactly how and why they did so will be revealed in Part Two.

 

11. The word "can't" isn't meant to suggest a physical limit, here. 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 limitations of language. [More on this below; see also Note 9.]

 

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 that word 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, such sentences are incapable of being true and they are incapable of being false. In Metaphysics, as we have seen, the indicative or fact-stating mood has plainly been mis-used, mis-applied, or misconstrued. 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 as such 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 don't know whether it is actually true or whether it is actually false -- and may never do so, or even wish to 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 that is capable of being owned) 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 how and 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 -- again, even if we never succeed, or even wish to succeed, in doing either.

 

[Alternatively, if we didn't know such things (implicitly or explicitly), that would indicate we didn't understand T1, after all.]

 

11a. Some might try to defend Lenin by claiming this is just an hyperbole. Hence, it could be argued that Lenin certainly didn't think that the words "motion without matter" were literally unthinkable, merely that it made no sense to suppose there could be 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 supposition.

 

Or so the case for the defence might go.

 

If so, the section in MEC entitled "Is Motion Without Matter Conceivable?" was clearly misnamed. That is the very section in which M1 occurs, and 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 with 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 (quoting Engels):

 

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

 

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

 

Hence, the unthinkability of the separation of matter and motion 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' can't be separated, even in thought. As soon as an attempt is made to separate them, you are no longer talking about matter, or even about motion.

 

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

 

[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. Just think 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, or with which some would subsequently claim he acquiesced? Does anyone think that Marx would have approved of the ridiculous things Engels said about mathematics in that book? Marx was a competent mathematician (even though his knowledge in this area was at least half a century out-of-date), whereas Engels wasn't. Those who now tell us that Marx agreed with everything Engels said have plainly not thought through the implications of that unwise claim. (I have considered this issue in much more detail here and here.)]

 

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

 

"Motion is the mode of existence of matter. Never anywhere has there been matter without motion, nor can there be. Matter without motion is just as inconceivable as motion without matter. Motion is therefore as uncreatable and indestructible as matter itself; as the older philosophy (Descartes) expressed it, the quantity of motion existing in the world is always the same. Motion therefore cannot be created; it can only be transferred....

 

"A motionless state of matter is therefore one of the most empty and nonsensical of ideas...." [Engels (1976), p.74. Bold emphases added.]

 

Not much hyperbole in there from Engels, then. In fact, this is a core DM-principle. Both Lenin and Engels meant what they said.

 

The problem is: What on earth did they mean?

 

At this point, someone could argue that contradictions like this 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) can't be thought.

 

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

 

Except, Lenin did say they could be thought, after all!

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Indeed, in view of the additional fact that belief in motionless matter was an integral part of Aristotelian Physics (which idea dominated scientific thought for the best part of fifteen hundred years), they would be right to conclude that "motionless matter can exist" is thinkable. 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 critic has so argued:

 

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

 

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

"6. A functioning perpetuum mobile is unthinkable.

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

 

However, a supporter of this site argued in reply:

 

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

 

"As she says at her site:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"You then offer us this example:

 

'6. A functioning perpetuum mobile is unthinkable.'

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

And, as we have just seen, Lenin admitted it was possible to think what he said was "unthinkable".

 

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 they would have to have done if the criticisms aired in this work are correct.

 

Or, so it could be argued.

 

[VP = Verb Phrase.]

 

Of course the clause "VP 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 isn't an option, and never will be."

 

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

 

And so on.

 

Many of these alternative readings allude to the incredulity or intellectual stubbornness of the individual concerned; that is, they record the psychological impossibility, or refusal, of that individual ever coming to believe that the USA would abandon Taiwan. Now, if Lenin meant what he said in this sense, that would weaken considerably his opposition to the immobility of matter -- since it would sever the link Lenin's thesis had with Engels's claim that motion is "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 that option below.]

 

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

 

[See also Note 43a.]

 

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 have rejected.

 

M11: His thoughts moved to a new topic.

 

But, even if M11 were contestable on other grounds, it wouldn't be difficult to think of alternative examples that aren't 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 day.

 

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 were 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, indeed, those in Essay Five) by refining Lenin's 'definition' of matter, or even of motion -- in tandem with the use of a range of 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 can be made either way. And yet, Lenin's intentions aren't at all easy to fathom; in fact, it is difficult to make head or tail of Lenin's claims in this area, or in MEC, 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 the use 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 the world 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, and anyone who agrees with him.

 

However, it could be countered that it is perfectly clear what Lenin intended; he was alluding to the physical, or literal, meaning of the word "move" -- i.e., 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") isn't without its own problems. Since that was discussed in detail in Essay Five, the reader is referred there for more details.

 

Moreover, we have already seen Lenin speak about the movement of thought:

 

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

 

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

 

Lenin here speaks about "the movement of ideas" and the "motion of...thoughts, ideas, sensations". By this use of "move"/"motion" he can't have meant "change of place"!

 

So, if Lenin is allowed to employ a wider set of connotations with respect to his use of "motion" (and its cognates), DM-fans can hardly complain when that wider set is used against his theory.

 

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

 

Finally, since many of the above examples relate to events that take place, or might 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 characterisation of matter and motion, not with those examples.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

M13: Literal motion without matter can never take place.

 

The use of that word is deliberate because M12 could be true while M13 is false (which means that M13 can't follow from M12).

 

On the other hand, M13 could follow from M12 if an extra Idealist (perhaps even suppressed) 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 that, 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 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; 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, 2014), and Varzi (1997, 2013)], 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 instance. However, introducing that complication at this stage wouldn't affect the point being made since geodesics are, of course, non-material. Arguably, they aren't even 'extra-mental'. Of course, exactly what makes matter, or, indeed, anything, move along geodesics is a moot point, 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 assumes geodesics are extra-mental entities, when they are in fact mathematical objects, and, like lines of force, their physical status is rather puzzling, if not entirely dubious. (On that, see here and below.) If so, it isn't easy to see how matter can 'create' a single geodesic.]

 

But, N1 mightn't even be true (and that is quite apart from the fact that it, too, is "thinkable"; you, dear reader, have just thought it -- or what it supposedly 'represents'!) -- and that could even be the case with or without the need to appeal to a single DM-principle. Anyway, as we saw in Note One, according to DM-fans, motion is the "mode" of the existence of matter; its demotion to that of merely playing a causal role in the whole affair would seriously 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, (or 'the field' in general), and the like) can act as causal agents. Unless we subscribe to some form of Mystical, Cosmic, Pythagorean-Platonism, this isn't 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 by Lenin:

 

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

 

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

 

"[T]he sole 'property' of matter with whose recognition philosophical materialism is bound up is the property of being an objective reality, of existing outside our mind....

 

"Thus…the concept of matter…epistemologically implies nothing but objective reality existing independently of the human mind and reflected by it." [Ibid., pp.311-12. Italic emphasis in the original.]

 

Or so it could be maintained, once more.

 

But, the CMG doesn't actually exist -- at least, no more than any other averaged quantity does. Is there in existence anywhere an individual answering to "The average man/woman in the UK"? How either the latter, or the CMG, can be 'objective' is, therefore, still mysterious.

 

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

 

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

 

Would we be prepared to accept a 'definition' of "fairness" promulgated by a supporter of the current system that meant this word applied to everything and anything that happened inside Capitalism that had been initiated by the ruling-class or their ideologues? Or that wages paid to workers were "fair"?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Now, I don't expect the DM-fraternity to accept any of this, but when they see what odd entities Lenin's over-generous definition permits, I think they might 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 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, earthy matter would be motionless. [On this, see Morison (2002), Sorabji (1988), and Copleston (2003a), chapter 30.]

 

As Aristotle himself argued:

 

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

 

[By "constraint", Aristotle meant "enforced motion"; that is, something "forcibly moved by some other mover". On this see Bodnar (2012), Dijksterhuis (1986), pp,24-32, Guthrie (1990), pp.243-76, and Sorabji (1988), pp.219-26.]

 

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

 

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

 

"1. In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

 

"2. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters." [Genesis, Chapter One, verses 1 and 2.]

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"The feature that distinguishes Leibnitz (sic) from Spinoza: In Leibnitz (sic) there is, in addition to the concept of substance, the concept of force 'and indeed of active force...' the principle of 'self-activity'....

 

"Ergo. Leibnitz (sic) through theology arrived at the principle of the inseparable (and universal, absolute) connection of matter and motion." [Lenin (1961), p.377. 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 Hegel. [This will be one of the many topics discussed in Essay Fourteen Part One (summary here); until then, see Ross (1983, 1998).]

 

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

 

But, once more, why didn't Lenin 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. I have covered this topic in more detail here.]

 

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 isolation...in which he appears as mere free worker." [Ibid., p.485. Bold emphasis added.]

 

[This anticipates Wittgenstein, except, he would have questioned this particular 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 isn't to suggest that Marx and Wittgenstein would have seen eye-to-eye (quite the reverse, in fact), or that Marx was a proto-Wittgenstein -- far from it. However, as I have noted here, anyone who concludes the contrary faces severe difficulties over interpretation, at the very least.

 

Having said that, there are clear indications that Wittgenstein adopted his 'anthropological' approach to language as a result of long conversations 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 here is the theory that language is innate, and hence it isn't a social phenomenon. Despite what some say, there is no way this idea can be made consistent with Marxism. [I 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 a mystical belief that language in effect contains a secret code which is capable of reflecting the underlying 'Essence' of Nature, and which has somehow also been stitched into the fabric of reality, so that the one can 'reflect' the other -- 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 doctrine, language itself contains hidden clues -- clues that can only be accessed, or 'understood', by the elite, their ideologues, their hangers-on, lackeys, or by specially-trained 'thinkers'. Cosmic verities like this lie way beyond the grasp of ordinary humans -- so the story goes --, trapped as they are in a world of 'commonsense', dominated by ordinary language and 'formal thinking'. This 'Divine Code' was thought to have been written into, or actually was, the 'primary language' given to Adam by God -- but, similar myths are also found in other religions and cultural traditions. Much of Hermetic, Neo-Platonic, Alchemical and Kabbalistic mysticism is largely based on this dogma.

 

[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.]

 

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

 

In DM-circles, this doctrine surfaces as part of the a priori dogma that thought is dialectical because reality is dialectical (which 'profound secret' is, alas, hidden from those who refuse to see, or who just do not "understand" dialectics). Hence, DM can be called an "Algebra of Revolution", which works because it alone is tuned into 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 ancient dogma 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.

 

To be sure, the confusion between rules of inference and logical or metaphysical 'truths' dates back to Aristotle himself. And, it isn't hard to see why this should be so. If a theorist (or, indeed, an entire culture) believes that everything had been created by a 'deity', then fundamental truths about nature can't help but reflect how that 'being' must 'think' and thus how 'he/she/it' actually went about creating everything. This would 'naturally' connect 'correct' thinking about nature, 'mind' and society with divinely-instituted, fundamental principles that govern, or even constitute, 'reality'.

 

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

 

"God spoke before all things, and said, 'Let there be light.' In this way, he created both heaven and earth; for with the utterance of the divine word, 'there was light'.... Thus Creation itself arose through an act of speech; it is only by giving things their names that he created them and gave them their ontological status....

 

"In Genesis..., the Lord speaks to man for the first time.... We are not told in what language God spoke to Adam. Tradition has pictured it as a sort of language of interior illumination, in which God...expresses himself....

 

"...Clearly we are here in the presence of a motif, common to other religions and mythologies -- that of the nomothete, the name-giver, the creator of language." [Eco (1997), pp.7-8. Bold emphases added. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.

 

Fast forward a score or more centuries and this ancient presupposition re-surfaced in Hegel's (supposedly presuppositionless) work as part of a mystical or ontological doctrine connected with allegedly 'self-developing' concepts -- which idea was itself the result of an egregious error over the nature of predication (a topic covered in detail in Essay Three Part One) -- seriously compounded an even worse error concerning the nature of the LOI.

 

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

 

'Presuppositionless' -- my foot!

 

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

 

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

 

"What we are dealing with in logic is not a thinking about something which exists independently as a base for our thinking and apart from it, nor forms which are supposed to provide mere signs or distinguishing marks of truth; on the contrary, the necessary forms and self-determinations of thought are the content and the ultimate truth itself." [Hegel (1999), pp.50-51, §§53-54. Bold emphases and link added. Italic emphases in the original. I have reproduced the published version, since the on-line version differs from it; I have informed the editors over at the Marxist Internet Archive about this. They have now corrected the on-line version!]

 

In the above book alone, readers will find page-after-page of 'presuppositionless', a priori dogmatism like this.

 

Be this as it may, when this misbegotten 'ontological' interpretation of FL is abandoned (or 'un-presupposed'), the temptation to identify logic with science (with the "Laws of Thought" or even with 'absolute' or 'ultimate' truth) 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 inappropriate metaphysical baggage, and every reason not to. On the other hand, if there is a link between FL and metaphysical, scientific or 'ultimate' truth -- as both legend and Hegel would have us believe --, then that thesis needs substantiation. It isn't enough just to assume, or to assert, that such a link exists, as has generally been the case in Idealist and 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 is supposed to follow 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 functions as a sort of cosmic code-cracker, capable of unmasking profound truths about (otherwise) 'hidden' aspects of 'reality' -- aka the search for 'underlying essences' -- than they have been with justifying this entire line-of-thought with evidence and argument, as opposed to assumption and assertion. Nor have they been concerned to examine the motives that gave life to this class-compromised approach to Super-Knowledge, concocted over two millennia ago in Ancient Greece.

 

[Concerning the other ancient idea that language somehow 'reflects' the world, and that truths about nature can be derived from words or thought alone, see Dyke (2007). The reader mustn't assume, however, that I agree with Dyke's metaphysical conclusions (or, indeed, with any metaphysical conclusions whatsoever). As this Essay shows, the opposite of this is in fact the case -- I regard them all as both non-sensical and incoherent.]

 

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 Nineteenth Century!), but that fact just makes the criticisms DM-theorists level against FL even more anachronistic and hard to fathom.

 

Anyway, if materialists are to reject the 'mythical' view of nature prevalent in Ancient Greece -- and which is both implicit and explicit in Hegelian Ontology --, as surely they must, then the idea that FL is a branch of the sciences becomes even more difficult to sustain.

 

Indeed, how is it possible for language to 'reflect' the logic of the world if the world has no logic to it?

 

Which it couldn't have unless Nature were 'Mind', or the product of 'Mind'.

 

If the development of Nature isn't in fact the (disguised) development of 'Mind' (as Hegel supposed), 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 (i.e., the sophisticated version of this theory); but, as we shall see (in Essays Three and Twelve), that, too, was an unwise move.

 

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

 

It is instructive to recall that since the Renaissance 'western' 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 and anachronistic today (that is, to all but the incurably religious). In like manner, previous generations of logicians used to confuse logic with science and the "Laws of Thought", and they, too, did this for theological and ideological reasons. In that case, one would have thought that avowed materialists (i.e., dialecticians) would be the very last ones to perpetuate this ancient confusion.

 

Clearly not.

 

As will be argued at length later on at this site, only if it can be shown (and not simply assumed or asserted) that nature has a rational structure would it be plausible to suppose that there is any connection at all between the way human beings think and reason and the underlying constitution of nature. Short of that, the idea that there is such 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 such profound 'ontological' implications, valid for all of space and time?

 

Even to ask these questions is to answer them: there is no reason to suppose any of this -- other than the class-compromised motives that stem from religious or ideological considerations.

 

Indeed, how is it possible that certain metaphysical truths are only capable of being derived from, or expressed in, Indo-European grammar? Was this group of humans blessed by the 'gods'? Are there really "subjects", "copulas" and "predicates" out there in nature for language to 'reflect' -- which are relatively 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 with fundamental metaphysical truths about "Being" itself -- becomes irresistible.

 

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).]

 

Nevertheless, 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., they have given little thought to the idea that their brand of logic implies reality is Ideal. If logic does indeed reflect the structure of 'Being', then 'Being' must be 'Mind'.

 

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

 

Whatever the precise details turn out to be in each case, this almost universally held doctrine, this ruling idea, only succeeded in 'populating' nature with invisible "essences", and immaterial 'rational' principles, which were somehow capable of being reflected in language or 'thought'. These hidden precepts were supposedly encoded in language in an abstract form, and were available, or were revealed, only to those capable of performing complex feats of mental gymnastics (and, of course, only those with enough leisure time to indulge in the sport) -- a skill compounded by an even more impressive ability to invent increasingly baroque, but nonetheless vacuous, terminology.

 

This meant that the attack on the social nature of discourse (which began in early class society) was one wing 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, we will soon discover that, instead of the arcane languages Philosophers invent that are able to mirror nature, their jargon actually reflects constantly changing ruling-class interests and hence ruling-class-inspired perceptions of the 'natural order' -- i.e., those that are conducive to their aims and priorities.

 

Theorists who, because of their class position, were removed or alienated from the everyday world of work, were naturally pre-disposed to remove (or 'abstract') ordinary words from their home in communication. This helped reinforce the idea reality was fundamentally abstract, the product of some 'Mind' or other. This in turn implied that only those capable of forming greater or broader abstractions (based less and less on any real connection with the material world) were capable of truly appreciating such esoteric mysteries -- or, since Hegel's day, were capable of "understanding" the 'dialectic of reality'.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

"What we are dealing with in logic is not a thinking about something which exists independently as a base for our thinking and apart from it, nor forms which are supposed to provide mere signs or distinguishing marks of truth; on the contrary, the necessary forms and self-determinations of thought are the content and the ultimate truth itself." [Hegel (1999), pp.50-51, §§53-54. Bold emphases and link added. Italic emphases in the original. I have reproduced the published version, since the on-line version differs from it; I have informed the editors over at the Marxist Internet Archive about this. They have now corrected the on-line version!]

 

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

 

"Instead of speaking by the maxim of Excluded Middle (which is the maxim of abstract understanding) we should rather say: Everything is opposite. Neither in heaven nor in Earth, neither in the world of mind nor of nature, is there anywhere such an abstract 'either-or' as the understanding maintains. Whatever exists is concrete, with difference and opposition in itself. The finitude of things will then lie in the want of correspondence between their immediate being, and what they essentially are....

 

"Contradiction is the very moving principle of the world: and it is ridiculous to say that contradiction is unthinkable. The only thing correct in that statement is that contradiction is not the end of the matter, but cancels itself. But contradiction, when cancelled, does not leave abstract identity; for that is itself only one side of the contrariety. The proximate result of opposition (when realised as contradiction) is the Ground, which contains identity as well as difference superseded and deposited to elements in the completer notion." [Hegel (1975), p.174; Essence as Ground of Existence, §119. Bold emphases added.]

 

This ancient, theoretical and ideological adulteration -- imported into the workers' movement by the appropriation of Hermetic Mysteries Hegel himself lifted from earlier Mystics and Idealists (whether or not these are left upside-down or subsequently flipped the 'right way up') -- was facilitated by erstwhile revolutionaries who also unwisely then introduced into revolutionary socialism 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; they will be elaborated upon in later Parts of this Essay, 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, nor the representational, nature of language 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 just such a form integral to HM -- which is also expressible with ease in ordinary language, and which is thereby consonant with the experience of working people.

 

[However, that won't 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 here 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 (all Seven Parts) will be devoted to substantiating many of these rather bald assertions.

 

18a. It could be objected that Voloshinov's work is a clear exception to these sweeping allegations. That objection has been well-and-truly neutralised in Essay Thirteen Part Three, Sections (4)-(6).

 

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 with those adopted at this site.]

 

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

 

19. I have summarised this argument here.

 

As Baz pointed out (quoted in Note 18b), theorists who emphasise the representational nature of language tend to focus on the ability of language to 'reflect' the 'objective' world in 'thought' (or, rather, they emphasise our ability to 'reflect' the world in 'thought', mediated perhaps by language). Although social factors are often mentioned in passing, the prevailing opinion completely undermines the role they exercise on meaning and communication. So, if we all (naturally) 'reflect' such truths in our heads, or in 'consciousness', what need is there for socialisation? That is why Representationalists often view ordinary language as an obstacle, something to be overcome, or by-passed, in the quest for 'philosophical' or 'objective' truth. For them, it would seem that if language were indeed social (or conventional), philosophical (and allegedly scientific) notions of 'objectivity' could gain no grip. This helps explain why Representationalists of every stripe advance the same complaints against ordinary language and 'commonsense' -- they stand in the way of (us) theorists giving an 'objective' account of reality -- which is also why they have invented a whole panoply of obscure notions by means of which they hope to by-pass the vernacular. It also explains their hostility to OLP and Wittgenstein's work. It is tantamount to conceding the point made here that the vernacular actually prevents their obscure theories from being concocted.

 

[OLP = Ordinary Language Philosophy.]

 

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 revolutionaries who write on this topic) will be examined in more detail Essay Thirteen Part Three. There, we will see that these comments also apply to Voloshinov and Vygotsky -- and, indeed, to those who look to them for inspiration.

 

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

 

20. That was, of course, an echo of 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, it seems, have also accepted Bourgeois individualist theories of meaning, loosely grafted onto social theories of language and 'consciousness'. As Meredith Williams commented on 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 examine several of the most important of these in Essay Thirteen Part Three, sections (4)-(6).]

 

21. In fact, disappointingly few Marxists have commented on language in any detail, or with any profundity. Those that have tend to denigrate or depreciate ordinary language. Either that, or they make all the usual mistakes -- implying that they, too, accept the doctrine that language is primarily representational.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Unfortunately, there are few comprehensive, let alone convincing, Marxist analyses of Science, and 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 unpublished essays, which have been posted at this site.] Indeed, while Science itself has advanced dramatically since Engels's day, DM-accounts of it have largely stood still -- and this is more especially so over the last fifty years. DM-theorists are obviously more intent on rehashing tired old ideas lifted from the 'classics' than they are with keeping abreast of current developments in the History and Philosophy of Science.

 

Two of the more recent attempts to squeeze scientific knowledge into a dialectical boot it won't fit are RIRE and Mason (2012) -- which are in effect just padded-out and beefed-up versions of Baghavan (1987), and shorter and much less hagiographical versions of Gollobin (1986). Indeed, all four read like notorious Creationist attempts to make The Book of Genesis appear consistent with modern science. Another recent example of this trend is Malek (2011). Malek is a retired scientist, and despite his rather odd adherence to DM, some of his comments about the Idealist implications of modern science are well observed.

 

[Readers should check out the desperate debating tactics adopted in defence of DM over at the Soviet Empire Forum and 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' ("doxing") a fellow comrade here; Malek has openly acknowledged he is 'Futurehuman' in The Guardian comments section.]

 

To compound the problem, there have been even fewer attempts to understand the History of Science from an overtly revolutionary perspective. Phil Gasper's review back in the 1990s only serves to underline this easily confirmed fact. [Gasper (1998).] However, having said that, much of what Gasper has to say is itself 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) -- this links to a PDF]. 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 or argument has emerged in support of his core thesis. To compound matters, Hessen's essay is fatally compromised by his reliance on far too many of Engels obscure and erroneous ideas in this area. [Cf., Graham (1985); and Clark (1970).]

 

Bernal's classic work is more closely tied to the actual development of science; 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 bias, see Brown (2005).]

 

Excellent (left wing) historical work includes the following: Farrington (1939, 1974a, 1947b, 2000), the classic analyses in Caudwell (1949, 1977), Zilsel (2000) and Needham (1951a, 1951b, 1968, 1971, 1974, 1979), and, of course, Needham (1954-2004). A 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: Albury and Schwartz (1982), Easlea (1973, 1980), J. Jacob (1988), M. Jacob (1976, 1988, 2000, 2006a, 2006b), Krige (1980), and Mason (1962). Of course, several of these were published after Gasper's article was written!

 

However, by far and away the best work in this area is Hadden (1988, 1994), which developed ideas originally aired in Borkenau (1987), Grossmann (1987) and Sohn-Rethel (1978) -- alas, also omitted from Gasper's review. However, Hadden's book should be read in conjunction with 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 Marxism. Whatever one thinks of his criticism of the BBT, his analysis of science, as far as it goes, is excellent.

 

[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). Its 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, and shills for Big Capital! 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 had been subjected to numerous hack attacks of a rather suspicious nature -- plainly because that site is one of the best resources on the Internet exposing the GM industry.]

 

Added August 2010: The new site is now here. Use the 'Search' function to look for "LM Magazine", "Spiked", "RCP", "John Gillott", "Manjit Kumar", "Frank Furedi", "Fiona Fox", "Claire Fox", "Helene Goldenberg", "Science Media Centre", "Institute of Ideas", etc., etc. See also the Powerbase website.

 

As noted above, recent addition to the literature is Mason (2012), which is devoted to criticising some of the core ideas aired in RIRE, and from a 'dialectical' angle. Parts of this book are excellent, but much of it is highly repetitive and, where it discusses DM, recklessly naive. On that, see here.

 

Incidentally, Gasper's account is itself compromised as much by his uncritical acceptance of DM as its extreme philosophical brevity --, which is puzzling 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 either with argument or evidence. In marked contrast, Gasper seems quite happy to accept what Engels and Lenin (etc.) had to say about science with scarcely a blink, when what they wrote was supported by evidence, analysis 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 and referenced 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 readers 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 they will find in its place, however, is an excellent but no less depressing account of what various DM-apologists imagined was, or wasn't, the relation between Marxism and science, among many other seemingly irrelevant topics. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these now obsolete disputes and opinions currently possess only curiosity value, of sole interest to antiquarians and die-hard DM-fans, but few others. Even in their heyday, these  moribund arguments, disputes and opinions were seldom less than dogmatic and were more often motivated by sectarian point-scoring than they were by a search for the truth. Alas, that frame-or-mind still dominates Dialectical Marxism.

 

In spite of this, Sheehan's book is valuable in other respects, partly because (i) 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 (ii) It contains page after page of incriminating evidence, which unambiguously reveals to what extent this 'theory' has helped ruin Marxist theory as some of our very best minds have attempted to grapple with the incomprehensible gobbledygook Hegel helped inflict on them -- which wasn't, I take it, Sheehan's original intention.

 

These rather depressing conclusions have been further amplified by the following studies of the 'unfortunate' relationship between 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 perspective, see Lewontin and Levins (1976). [I have said much more about this period in the history of Soviet Science in Essay Four Part One.]

 

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

 

There are countless books on science and Marxism written by Stalinists, but few are worthy of mention. 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, though: Omelyanovsky (1974, 1978, 1979).

 

Other articles or 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 of Caudwell (1949, 1977), whose work is a combination of brilliant insight and a vain attempt 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. The author of TAR, John Rees, clearly rejects conventionalism, but unfortunately he failed to explain why (cf., Rees (1998), p.297). In MEC, Lenin made a characteristically weak stab at refuting a handful of 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 a little too highly.

 

Lenin almost invariably confronted each and every opinion he disliked with a neurotic repetition 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. A list of over forty passages in MEC like the above has been posted here.]

 

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 such 'objective' entities suddenly vanish from the universe, and hence become 'non-objective' --, and even worse, what on earth scientists were talking about before these ontological 'deletions' were enacted. [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 topic, consult this website and follow the links. See also Essay Eleven Part One, where the opinions of leading scientists on this mysterious 'entity' have been quoted.

 

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 can't be attributed to the development of greater and greater abstraction --, i.e., those that have been applied to, or derived from, nature. If this had been the case, the Ether would hardly keep disappearing from Physics and then re-appearing again in later generations, with completely different physical and 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 comments 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' isn't undermined by the passing away of obsolescent theories which postulate the existence of several soon-to-be-eliminated, but still putatively 'objective' entities, since these older theories were less near the truth than those that eventually superseded them, but which don't postulate the existence of these formerly 'objective' objects and processes.

 

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

 

Let us suppose that theory, T, for instance, postulates the existence of entity, or process, E, and that DM-theorists accept this as "objectively, but partially or even 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 it was neither. If E doesn't exist (and never did) then any claims made about 'it' are now devoid of sense.

 

[In fact, such claims are 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 example under consideration, if there is no Ether, Physicists wouldn't 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 Phlogiston and 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 or methodological) that have arisen as a result of the assumption that entities like these do 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 don't exist, and never did, the supposition that they do takes science away from the 'truth', away from 'objectivity'. Spin-off benefits (howsoever impressive) have nothing to do with 'objectivity' -- which, according to Lenin, relates to the 'mind independence'