Replies to Kosloff and Levins

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Summary Of My Main Objections To Dialectical Materialism

 

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Consequent on a debate at MHI, two comrades have attempted to reply to a few things I have said (here).

 

Leonard Kosloff

 

I don't have much time to comment on this, but I just wanted to make a point. It's understandable that after the asinine vulgarities of dialectical materialism, some people, like Rosa here, should feel aversion for anything dialectical. But for all intents and purposes, Rosa, the Wittgensteinian-Trotskyist-Marxist, who is pretty avid at the quote-mongering game as long as the quotes 'sound' to her as something she (?) would agree with, wants to resuscitate a debate which Marx had already put in ash-heap of history in his twenties. The question for Rosa is 'what is dialectical contradiction?', she is looking for a higher rationality than that of formal contradiction, of course, leaving the whole presupposed metaphysic of formal logic totally unquestioned. A good critique of this blindness can be found in the Hegelian philosopher Errol Harris, surely that has all the caveats of him being a defender of some liberalized version of Hegel, with a bag-full of Spinozism on the side, but still, a pretty clear reference (see his 'Formal, Transcendental and Dialectical Thinking') if Hegels obscure style throws you off…the cliff.


The question is not whether dialectical logic is more 'rational' than formal logic, the essence of the matter is in that both are LOGICS, they are a manifestation of alienated consciousness, which as external ('out-there') modes of thinking fail miserably in grasping the internal, truly historical (history being a process), dynamic of the human species' appropriation of Nature. In this sense, as Alfred Sohn-Rethel (whose work, 'Intellectual and Manual Labor', I highly recommend,) puts it, that "social being determines consciousness" is something that a Marxist, beyond any –isms, should understand in its full literal sense.


Why? Because the real question is: 'what is the dialectic for?' And, as crass as this may sound in this format, the dialectic is a method (and there is a whole lot to say about this obviously, though if I can recommend one more thing, the book by Jindrich Zeleny, 'The Logic of Marx', despite its tasteless title and that it's more of a summary, has some good pearls on the methodological issue, as regards the analytical and synthetical stages, etc.) to ascertain the objectivity of the real process of subsumption of labor under capital, and it is superior to the formalized scientific method, in that it goes beyond any appearance by not hypostasizing the external immediacy of sense-data (itself a result of the fetishism of the commodity form), by, that is, penetrating the object which one is trying to appropriate consciously until one attains the objective knowledge of this object so as to fully deploy the necessity of one's action.


It is a method then to provide Marxists a scientific critique of science, science being ‘the’ modality of production of relative surplus-value, that is, the production of a scientific consciousness, wherein lies the revolutionary subjectivity of the working class.


I’m not a big fan of Adorno -- the fact that I haven’t read him enough might have something to do with that -- but this quote of his rings very true to me: 'If the Hegelian synthesis did work out, it would only be the wrong one.'

 

Well, there is little here worth commenting on, since most of it is off topic, and of no help at all in understanding what 'dialectical contradictions' are. However, there are a few things that require some sort of a response.

 

But for all intents and purposes, Rosa, the Wittgensteinian-Trotskyist-Marxist, who is pretty avid at the quote-mongering game as long as the quotes 'sound' to her as something she (?) would agree with, wants to resuscitate a debate which Marx had already put in ash-heap of history in his twenties.

 

But, which quotes are these, or are we supposed to guess? And which have I ignored? Again, more guesswork. More to the point, what is the "debate" that Marx allegedly "put in the ash-heap of history in his twenties"? [Since we have very little from Marx in his twenties, perhaps we should try to access these 'lost writings' by employing a clairvoyant?]  Again we are left in the dark.

 

The question for Rosa is 'what is dialectical contradiction?', she is looking for a higher rationality than that of formal contradiction, of course, leaving the whole presupposed metaphysic of formal logic totally unquestioned.

 

Where does comrade Kosloff get this idea from? Nowhere have I asked for a "higher rationality"? I merely wish to know what a 'dialectical contradiction' is; after all, we have only been waiting for 200 years. Perhaps I am a little too impatient.

 

But, what about this?

 

leaving the whole presupposed metaphysic of formal logic totally unquestioned.

 

I am in fact quite hard on the various 'metaphysics' that have been stapled onto logic over the last two thousand odd years (on that, see here and here), but that doesn't stop comrade Kosloff attributing to me beliefs he cannot possibly know I possess. But, even if logic were compromised in this way, how does that help answer my question: what the hell is a 'dialectical contradiction'? None that I can see.

 

A good critique of this blindness can be found in the Hegelian philosopher Errol Harris, surely that has all the caveats of him being a defender of some liberalized version of Hegel, with a bag-full of Spinozism on the side, but still, a pretty clear reference (see his 'Formal, Transcendental and Dialectical Thinking') if Hegels obscure style throws you off…the cliff.

 

And yet, this too is no help, since my question is not being asked from a formal perspective, but from one of general puzzlement.

 

Of course, I have what I consider to be reasonably sound quasi-formal arguments that show where Hegel went wrong (on that, see here, here and here), but my general query does not depend on them.

 

So, once again, here's another critic hopelessly wide of the mark.

 

The question is not whether dialectical logic is more 'rational' than formal logic, the essence of the matter is in that both are LOGICS,

 

Well, no, the sub-Aristotelian material one finds in Hegel can only be called "logic" by someone with an odd sense of humour. Hence, we only have one logic, or rather, one tradition in logic that has spawned many others (for example, classical post-Fregean logic, modal, epistemic, deontic, and temporal logics). As I note in Essay Four Part One (references can be found at the end of this Essay):

 

At first sight, it would seem obvious that a logical system based on a static view of the world -- as it is alleged of Formal Logic [FL] -- would have few if any practical consequences. On the other hand, it would appear equally clear that a different logical system based on the opposite view of reality -- as is also claimed of Dialectical Logic [DL] -- should have countless practical applications in science and technology.

 

Oddly enough, the exact opposite is the case: DL has no discernible practical or scientific applications, and has featured in none of the advances in the natural or physical sciences (and arguably none even in the social sciences) -- ever. Worse, DL has made no contribution to technological innovation.

 

In stark contrast to this, FL has played an invaluable role on the development of science and mathematics, and has featured in countless applications in technology and the applied sciences.

 

[Naturally, dialecticians might want to deny this, but apart from claiming that scientists are all "unconscious dialecticians", their evidence peters out alarmingly quickly. [This is examined in more detail in Note 20, below.]

 

Of course, if the claim that all scientists are "unconscious dialecticians" is to stand, then what is to stop Buddhists, for example, claiming that all scientists are "unconscious followers of The Eightfold Path"?

 

This is no joke; some already have! On this see, McFarlane (2003).

 

But, why don't we go the whole hog? Why not claim that dialecticians are "unconscious head-hunters"; there is about as much evidence to support that wild idea too.

 

The historical connections between FL and science are detailed throughout, for example, Losee (2001); similar links with mathematics can be found in Kneale and Kneale (1962), pp.379-742, with a brief survey in Nidditch (1998). There is a clear summary of the connection between Fregean FL and advances in mathematics in Beaney (1996), pp.269-77 and pp.1-117. However, the best introductions can be found in Weiner (1990, 1999, 2004) and in Noonan (2001); the general background is supplied by Giaquinto (2004). The relation between science and Dialectical Materialism [DM] will examined in more detail in Essay Three Part Six, and Essay Thirteen Part Two.

 

For a more illuminating discussion of the way contradictions can be managed -- at least in Mathematics -- cf., Floyd (1995, 2000). For the same in science, see Harrison (1987).]

 

Indeed, one excellent example (among the many) of the impact FL on technology is the development of computers. Their origin goes back many centuries, but advances in mathematical logic (post 1850) proved to be decisive. The invention of Boolean and Fregean Logic, the mathematical logic of Russell, Whitehead, Hilbert, Peano, von Neumann and Church (etc.) -- along with the logico-mathematical work of Alan Turing -- all helped to make the development of computers possible. FL has not only contributed to the evolution of software and of computer languages, the principles of Propositional Calculus govern the operation of all standard processors (etc.).

 

In addition, there are numerous other examples of the practical applications of FL, ranging from Cybernetics to Code Theory and from Linguistics to Game Theory and Discrete Mathematics. The question is: Can DM-theorists point to a single successful application of DL in technology, or in the natural and physical sciences? The answer is reasonably plain; they can't. But this glaring failure becomes all the more revealing when it is remembered that dialecticians repeatedly claim that their 'logic' is superior to FL when it is applied to the material world.

 

This is perhaps one paradoxical mismatch between DM and recalcitrant reality that cannot be solved by the simple expedient of "grasping" it.

 

What about this, though?

 

they are a manifestation of alienated consciousness, which as external ('out-there') modes of thinking fail miserably in grasping the internal, truly historical (history being a process), dynamic of the human species' appropriation of Nature. In this sense, as Alfred Sohn-Rethel (whose work, 'Intellectual and Manual Labor', I highly recommend,) puts it, that "social being determines consciousness" is something that a Marxist, beyond any –isms, should understand in its full literal sense.

 

Maybe so, maybe not, but our understanding of history is not helped one iota by the use of terminally obscure concepts, which not one of those who dote on them can explain with any clarity. Indeed, we can see this from the fact that this sort of 'logic' has presided over the long-term failure of Dialectical Marxism. [For more on that controversial claim, see Essay Ten Part One.] Which is rather odd if this 'logic' is quite as good as we have been led to believe.

 

And I agree that "social being determines consciousness", and that is why it is only petty-bourgeois Marxist intellectuals and de-classé revolutionaries who dote on this mystical 'theory'. [Why they do this, and why they are particularly susceptible to this form of ruling-class ideology, see Essay Nine Part Two.]

 

Why? Because the real question is: 'what is the dialectic for?' And, as crass as this may sound in this format, the dialectic is a method (and there is a whole lot to say about this obviously, though if I can recommend one more thing, the book by Jindrich Zeleny, 'The Logic of Marx', despite its tasteless title and that it's more of a summary, has some good pearls on the methodological issue, as regards the analytical and synthetical stages, etc.) to ascertain the objectivity of the real process of subsumption of labor under capital, and it is superior to the formalized scientific method, in that it goes beyond any appearance by not hypostasizing the external immediacy of sense-data (itself a result of the fetishism of the commodity form), by, that is, penetrating the object which one is trying to appropriate consciously until one attains the objective knowledge of this object so as to fully deploy the necessity of one's action.

 

Well, Zeleny's book is the non-existent deity's gift to confusion and obscurity. Zeleny nowhere challenges the sub-Aristotelian 'logic' that has seeped into Dialectical Marxism, so it isn't a book that anyone who is looking for clarity should even open, let alone read. [Hume's bonfire beckons here, one feels.] Even so, those foolish enough to ignore this advice will find in this book nothing that will help them understand what a 'dialectical contradiction' is.

 

Yet another brick wall...

 

It is a method then to provide Marxists a scientific critique of science, science being ‘the’ modality of production of relative surplus-value, that is, the production of a scientific consciousness, wherein lies the revolutionary subjectivity of the working class.


I’m not a big fan of Adorno -- the fact that I haven’t read him enough might have something to do with that -- but this quote of his rings very true to me: 'If the Hegelian synthesis did work out, it would only be the wrong one.'

 

And yet as a 'method', as I noted above, this 'logic' has presided over 150 years of almost total failure.

 

Flipping a coin would have been a better method in such circumstances!

 

Richard Levins

 

The following considerations might be helpful:


1. "contradiction", in its etymology "speaking against" was a process unfolding in time, negating a proposition in order to get beyond it.


2. Formal logic removes the temporal dynamic aspect to make it a formal, structural relation.


3. The formal logical statement "implies" is a static, set-theoretic relation but is a detemporalized equivalent to "leads to" (in time).


4. In real systems, variables change (except at equilibrium, a set of measure 0!). That is, A leads to not-A. If there is an eventual equilibrium, this is equivalent to proof by contradiction. In living systems, social systems, eco-systems etc there is permanent change ( A always leads to (implies!) not-A. These may be periodic or chaotic . The terror of early computer programmers was to get into an endless (and expensive) loop, which was equivalent to contradiction in the program.


In formal logic, you may not (but can) hold to contradictory propositions at the same time . In dialectical logic, two propositions may be separately false but jointly true; health is socially determined, and you are responsible for your health. Either one alone can result in passivity but jointly can result in self-care and collective action...


5. You can create formally disjunct mathematical sets, but with real things no division of a whole world into mutually exclusive categories really holds. Environmental/genetic, physical/psychological, biological/social, etc interpenetrate, and furthermore it is when we recognize their interpenetration that we get the exciting new insights.


All of these and other aspects of contradiction make it an important tool in science.
 

In fact, they are no help at all. Here is why:

 

1. "contradiction", in its etymology "speaking against" was a process unfolding in time, negating a proposition in order to get beyond it.

 

2. Formal logic removes the temporal dynamic aspect to make it a formal, structural relation.

 

Well, this is not true of temporal logic, and it is only true in a limited sense of FL itself. After all, even a formal argument 'unfolds in time'. And, as we will see below, the 'temporal dynamic' is in fact something DL itself cannot cope with!

 

3. The formal logical statement "implies" is a static, set-theoretic relation but is a detemporalized equivalent to "leads to" (in time).

 

There are in fact many branches of FL that do not rely on set theory.

 

4. In real systems, variables change (except at equilibrium, a set of measure 0!). That is, A leads to not-A. If there is an eventual equilibrium, this is equivalent to proof by contradiction. In living systems, social systems, eco-systems etc there is permanent change (A always leads to (implies!) not-A. These may be periodic or chaotic . The terror of early computer programmers was to get into an endless (and expensive) loop, which was equivalent to contradiction in the program.

 

But, what is this "not-A"? Is this propositional negation, predicate negation, predicate term negation? We are left in the dark. And, of course, this use of the negative particle is, it seems, metaphorical. More on that below.

 

If there is an eventual equilibrium, this is equivalent to proof by contradiction.

 

But, this is entirely unclear. Proof by contradiction involves the deliberate assumption of a target proposition, alongside others, and the derivation of a contradiction from them. The conclusion is then the propositional negation of the assumed target proposition. Now, how is this in any way analogous to obscure 'dialectical negation'?

 

A always leads to (implies!) not-A. These may be periodic or chaotic . The terror of early computer programmers was to get into an endless (and expensive) loop, which was equivalent to contradiction in the program.

 

This is indeed what the dialectical brochure says, but as we are about to see, it all falls apart on close examination. Here is (an edited version of) what I have argued in Essay Seven Part Three (references can be found at the end of that Essay):

 

Surprisingly, DM-theorists (like Plekhanov, Lenin and Engels) are decidedly unclear as to whether objects/processes change because of (1) A contradictory relationship between their internal opposites, or because (2) They change into these opposites, or even whether (3) Change itself creates such opposites.

 

Here is a list of representative passages lifted from the dialectical prophets (and lesser DM-clones) which illustrate the above. [Quotation marks have been altered to conform to the conventions adopted at my site; bold emphases alone added.]

 

"If, for instance, the Sophists claimed to be teachers, Socrates by a series of questions forced the Sophist Protagoras to confess that all learning is only recollection. In his more strictly scientific dialogues, Plato employs the dialectical method to show the finitude of all hard and fast terms of understanding. Thus in the Parmenides he deduces the many from the one. In this grand style did Plato treat Dialectic. In modern times it was, more than any other, Kant who resuscitated the name of Dialectic, and restored it to its post of honour. He did it, as we have seen, by working out the Antinomies of the reason. The problem of these Antinomies is no mere subjective piece of work oscillating between one set of grounds and another; it really serves to show that every abstract proposition of understanding, taken precisely as it is given, naturally veers round to its opposite.

 

"However reluctant Understanding may be to admit the action of Dialectic, we must not suppose that the recognition of its existence is peculiarly confined to the philosopher. It would be truer to say that Dialectic gives expression to a law which is felt in all other grades of consciousness, and in general experience. Everything that surrounds us may be viewed as an instance of Dialectic. We are aware that everything finite, instead of being stable and ultimate, is rather changeable and transient; and this is exactly what we mean by that Dialectic of the finite, by which the finite, as implicitly other than what it is, is forced beyond its own immediate or natural being to turn suddenly into its opposite." [Hegel (1975), pp.117-18.]

 

"Everything is opposite. Neither in heaven nor in earth, neither in the world of mind nor nature, is there anywhere an abstract 'either-or' as the understanding maintains. Whatever exists is concrete, with difference and opposition in itself. The finitude of things with then lie in the want of correspondence between their immediate being and what they essentially are. Thus, in inorganic nature, the acid is implicitly at the same time the base: in other words its only being consists in its relation to its other. Hence the acid persists quietly in the contrast: it is always in effort to realize what it potentially is. Contradiction is the very moving principle of the world." [Ibid., p.174. Bold emphasis added.]

 

"The law of the interpenetration of opposites.... [M]utual penetration of polar opposites and transformation into each other when carried to extremes...." [Engels  (1954), pp.17, 62.]

 

"Dialectics, so-called objective dialectics, prevails throughout nature, and so-called subjective dialectics, dialectical thought, is only the reflection of the motion through opposites which asserts itself everywhere in nature, and which by the continual conflict of the opposites and their final passage into one another, or into higher forms, determines the life of nature. Attraction and repulsion. Polarity begins with magnetism, it is exhibited in one and the same body; in the case of electricity it distributes itself over two or more bodies which become oppositely charged. All chemical processes reduce themselves -- to processes of chemical attraction and repulsion. Finally, in organic life the formation of the cell nucleus is likewise to be regarded as a polarisation of the living protein material, and from the simple cell -- onwards the theory of evolution demonstrates how each advance up to the most complicated plant on the one side, and up to man on the other, is effected by the continual conflict between heredity and adaptation. In this connection it becomes evident how little applicable to such forms of evolution are categories like 'positive' and 'negative.' One can conceive of heredity as the positive, conservative side, adaptation as the negative side that continually destroys what has been inherited, but one can just as well take adaptation as the creative, active, positive activity, and heredity as the resisting, passive, negative activity." [Ibid., p.211.]

 

"For a stage in the outlook on nature where all differences become merged in intermediate steps, and all opposites pass into one another through intermediate links, the old metaphysical method of thought no longer suffices. Dialectics, which likewise knows no hard and fast lines, no unconditional, universally valid 'either-or' and which bridges the fixed metaphysical differences, and besides 'either-or' recognises also in the right place 'both this-and that' and reconciles the opposites, is the sole method of thought appropriate in the highest degree to this stage. Of course, for everyday use, for the small change of science, the metaphysical categories retain their validity." [Ibid., pp.212-13.]

 

"Further, we find upon closer investigation that the two poles of an antithesis positive and negative, e.g., are as inseparable as they are opposed and that despite all their opposition, they mutually interpenetrate. And we find, in like manner, that cause and effect are conceptions which only hold good in their application to individual cases; but as soon as we consider the individual cases in their general connection with the universe as a whole, they run into each other, and they become confounded when we contemplate that universal action and reaction in which causes and effects are eternally changing places, so that what is effect here and now will be cause there and then, and vice versa." [Engels (1976), p.27.]

 

"Already in Rousseau, therefore, we find not only a line of thought which corresponds exactly to the one developed in Marx's Capital, but also, in details, a whole series of the same dialectical turns of speech as Marx used: processes which in their nature are antagonistic, contain a contradiction; transformation of one extreme into its opposite; and finally, as the kernel of the whole thing, the negation of the negation. [Ibid., p.179.]

 

"...but the theory of Essence is the main thing: the resolution of the abstract contradictions into their own instability, where one no sooner tries to hold on to one side alone than it is transformed unnoticed into the other, etc." [Engels (1891), p.414.]

 

"And so every phenomenon, by the action of those same forces which condition its existence, sooner or later, but inevitably, is transformed into its own opposite…." [Plekhanov (1956), p.77.]

 

"[Among the elements of dialectics are the following:] [I]nternally contradictory tendencies…in [a thing]…as the sum and unity of opposites…. [This involves] not only the unity of opposites, but the transitions of every determination, quality, feature, side, property into every other [into its opposite?]….

 

"In brief, dialectics can be defined as the doctrine of the unity of opposites. This embodies the essence of dialectics….

 

"The splitting of the whole and the cognition of its contradictory parts…is the essence (one of the 'essentials', one of the principal, if not the principal, characteristic features) of dialectics…. 

 

"The identity of opposites…is the recognition…of the contradictory, mutually exclusive, opposite tendencies in all phenomena and processes of nature…. The condition for the knowledge of all processes of the world in their 'self-movement', in their spontaneous development, in their real life, is the knowledge of them as a unity of opposites. Development is the 'struggle' of opposites…. [This] alone furnishes the key to the self-movement of everything existing…. 

 

"The unity…of opposites is conditional, temporary, transitory, relative. The struggle of mutually exclusive opposites is absolute, just as development and motion are absolute…." [Lenin (1961), pp.221-22, 357-58.]

 

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

 

"'This harmony is precisely absolute Becoming change, -- not becoming other, now this and then another. The essential thing is that each different thing [tone], each particular, is different from another, not abstractly so from any other, but from its other. Each particular only is, insofar as its other is implicitly contained in its Notion...' Quite right and important: the 'other' as its other, development into its opposite." [Ibid., p.260. Lenin is here commenting on Hegel (1995), pp.278-98; this particular quotation coming from p.285. The translation in the edition I have consulted reads differently from the one Lenin used; Hegel is referring to "tones" here, not "things", as the reference to "harmony" indicates.]

 

"Dialectics is the teaching which shows how Opposites can be and how they happen to be (how they become) identical, -- under what conditions they are identical, becoming transformed into one another, -- why the human mind should grasp these opposites not as dead, rigid, but as living, conditional, mobile, becoming transformed into one another." [Ibid., p.109.]

 

"Development is the 'struggle' of opposites." [Lenin, Collected Works, Volume XIII, p.301.]

 

"Dialectics comes from the Greek dialego, to discourse, to debate. In ancient times dialectics was the art of arriving at the truth by disclosing the contradictions in the argument of an opponent and overcoming these contradictions. There were philosophers in ancient times who believed that the disclosure of contradictions in thought and the clash of opposite opinions was the best method of arriving at the truth. This dialectical method of thought, later extended to the phenomena of nature, developed into the dialectical method of apprehending nature, which regards the phenomena of nature as being in constant movement and undergoing constant change, and the development of nature as the result of the development of the contradictions in nature, as the result of the interaction of opposed forces in nature....

 

"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, a past and a future, something dying away and something developing; 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, between that which is disappearing and that which is developing, constitutes the internal content of the process of development, the internal content of the transformation of quantitative changes into qualitative changes." [Stalin (1976b), pp.836, 840.]

 

"[The sides of] dialectical contradictions do not dissolve one another, do not neutralise one another, while oppositely directed forces do not prevail over one another but turn into one another, and this transition of every phenomenon, every process into its opposite also constitutes the essence of all forms of movement of matter, a general law of its existence." [Boris Gessen and Ivan Podvolotskii, quoted in Weston (2008), p.435. These two characters were Deborinites writing in the 1920s. Bold emphasis added.]

 

"Why is it that '...the human mind should take these opposites not as dead, rigid, but as living, conditional, mobile, transforming themselves into one another'? Because that is just how things are in objective reality. The fact is that the unity or identity of opposites in objective things is not dead or rigid, but is living, conditional, mobile, temporary and relative; in given conditions, every contradictory aspect transforms itself into its opposite....

 

"In speaking of the identity of opposites in given conditions, what we are referring to is real and concrete opposites and the real and concrete transformations of opposites into one another....

 

"All processes have a beginning and an end, all processes transform themselves into their opposites. The constancy of all processes is relative, but the mutability manifested in the transformation of one process into another is absolute."  [Mao (1961b), pp.340-42.]

 

"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.... [Ibid., pp.311-18.]

 

"Second, and just as unconditionally valid, that all things are at the same time absolutely different and absolutely or unqualifiedly opposed. The law may also be referred to as the law of the polar unity of opposites. This law applies to every single thing, every phenomenon, and to the world as a whole. Viewing thought and its method alone, it can be put this way: The human mind is capable of infinite condensation of things into unities, even the sharpest contradictions and opposites, and, on the other hand, it is capable of infinite differentiation and analysis of things into opposites. The human mind can establish this unlimited unity and unlimited differentiation because this unlimited unity and differentiation is present in reality." [Thalheimer (1936), p.161.]

 

"So far we have discussed the most general and most fundamental law of dialectics, namely, the law of the permeation of opposites, or the law of polar unity. We shall now take up the second main proposition of dialectics, the law of the negation of the negation, or the law of development through opposites. This is the most general law of the process of thought. I will first state the law itself and support it with examples, and then I will show on what it is based and how it is related to the first law of the permeation of opposites. There is already a presentiment of this law in the oldest Chinese philosophy, in the of Transformations, as well as in Lao-tse and his disciples -- and likewise in the oldest Greek philosophy, especially in Heraclitus. Not until Hegel, however, was this law developed.

"This law applies to all motion and changes of things, to real things as well as to their images in our minds, i.e., concepts. It states first of all that things and concepts move, change, and develop; all things are processes. All fixity of individual things is only relative, limited; their motion, change, or development is absolute, unlimited. For the world as a whole absolute motion and absolute rest coincide. The proof of this part of the proposition, namely, that all things are in flux, we have already given in our discussion of Heraclitus.

"The law of the negation of the negation has a special sense beyond the mere proposition that all things are processes and change. It also states something about the most general form of these changes, motions, or developments. It states, in the first place, that all motion, development, or change, takes place through opposites or contradictions, or through the negation of a thing.

"Conceptually the actual movement of things appears as a negation. In other words, negation is the most general way in which motion or change of things is represented in the mind. This is the first stage of this process. The negation of a thing from which the change proceeds, however, is in turn subject to the law of the transformation of things into their opposites." [Ibid.,
pp.170-71.]

 

"The second dialectical law, that of the 'unity, interpenetration or identity of opposites'…asserts the essentially contradictory character of reality -– at the same time asserts that these 'opposites' which are everywhere to be found do not remain in stark, metaphysical opposition, but also exist in unity. This law was known to the early Greeks. It was classically expressed by Hegel over a hundred years ago….

 

"[F]rom the standpoint of the developing universe as a whole, what is vital is…motion and change which follows from the conflict of the opposite." [Guest (1963), pp.31, 32.]

 

"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." [Conze (1944), pp.35-36.]

 

"This dialectical activity is universal. There is no escaping from its unremitting and relentless embrace. 'Dialectics gives expression to a law which is felt in all grades of consciousness and in general experience. Everything that surrounds us may be viewed as an instance of dialectic. We are aware that everything finite, instead of being inflexible and ultimate, is rather changeable and transient; and this is exactly what we mean by the dialectic of the finite, by which the finite, as implicitly other than it is, is forced to surrender its own immediate or natural being, and to turn suddenly into its opposite.' (Encyclopedia, p.120)." [Novack (1971), 94-95; quoting Hegel (1975), p.118, although in a different translation from the one used here.]

 

"Formal logic, which is based on abstract, or simple, identity (A equals A), is too one-sided to explain this negation of one state of matter and its transformation into its opposite, in this case the lifeless into the living, because it excludes from its premises real difference and contradiction, which is the extreme development of difference. But the unity of opposites (A equals non-A), which makes contradiction explicit and intelligible, can explain this transition, which actually occurred on earth. The emergence of life from the nonliving in turn substantiates the objective basis in nature of this law of concrete contradiction, a cornerstone of dialectical logic." [Novack (1978), p.239. Bold emphasis added.]

 

"Contradiction is an essential feature of all being. It lies at the heart of matter itself. It is the source of all motion, change, life and development. The dialectical law which expresses this idea is the law of the unity and interpenetration of opposites….

 

"In dialectics, sooner or later, things change into their opposite. In the words of the Bible, 'the first shall be last and the last shall be first.' We have seen this many times, not least in the history of great revolutions. Formerly backward and inert layers can catch up with a bang. Consciousness develops in sudden leaps. This can be seen in any strike. And in any strike we can see the elements of a revolution in an undeveloped, embryonic form. In such situations, the presence of a conscious and audacious minority can play a role quite similar to that of a catalyst in a chemical reaction. In certain instances, even a single individual can play an absolutely decisive role....

 

"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....

 

"Contradictions are found at all levels of nature, and woe betide the logic that denies it. Not only can an electron be in two or more places at the same time, but it can move simultaneously in different directions. We are sadly left with no alternative but to agree with Hegel: they are and are not. Things change into their opposite. Negatively-charged electrons become transformed into positively-charged positrons. An electron that unites with a proton is not destroyed, as one might expect, but produces a new particle, a neutron, with a neutral charge.

 

"This is an extension of the law of the unity and interpenetration of opposites. It is a law which permeates the whole of nature, from the smallest phenomena to the largest...." [Woods and Grant (1995), pp.43-47, 63-71.]

 

"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.14-15, 46-48, 53, 65-66, 72, 77, 82, 86, 90, 95, 117; quoting Hegel (1975), pp.172 and 160, respectively.]

 

"Opposites in a thing are not only mutually exclusive, polar, repelling, each other; they also attract and interpenetrate each other. They begin and cease to exist together.... These dual aspects of opposites -- conflict and unity -- are like scissor blades in cutting, jaws in mastication, and two legs in walking. Where there is only one, the process as such is impossible: 'all polar opposites are in general determined by the mutual action of two opposite poles on one another, the separation and opposition of these poles exists only within their unity and interconnection, and, conversely, their interconnection exists only in their separation and their unity only in their opposition.' in fact, 'where one no sooner tries to hold on to one side alone then it is transformed unnoticed into the other....'" [Gollobin (1986), p.115; quoting Engels (1891), p.414.]

 

"The unity of opposites and contradiction.... The scientific world-view does not seek causes of the motion of the universe beyond its boundaries. It finds them in the universe itself, in its contradictions. The scientific approach to an object of research involves skill in perceiving a dynamic essence, a combination in one and the same object of mutually incompatible elements, which negate each other and yet at the same time belong to each other.

 

"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....

 

"The opposite sides, elements and tendencies of a whole whose interaction forms a contradiction are not given in some eternally ready-made form. At the initial stage, while existing only as a possibility, contradiction appears as a unity containing an inessential difference. The next stage is an essential difference within this unity. Though possessing a common basis, certain essential properties or tendencies in the object do not correspond to each other. The essential difference produces opposites, which in negating each other grow into a contradiction. The extreme case of contradiction is an acute conflict. Opposites do not stand around in dismal inactivity; they are not something static, like two wrestlers in a photograph. They interact and are more like a live wrestling match. Every development produces contradictions, resolves them and at the same time gives birth to new ones. Life is an eternal overcoming of obstacles. Everything is interwoven in a network of contradictions." [Spirkin (1983), pp.143-46.]

 

"The statement that the struggle of opposites is decisive in development in no way belittles the importance of their unity. The unity of opposites is a requisite of struggle, because there is struggle only where opposite sides exist in one object or phenomenon....

 

"And so, objects and phenomena have opposite aspects -- they represent the unity of opposites. Opposites not merely exist side by side, but are in a state of constant contradiction, a struggle is going on between them. The struggle of opposites is the inner content, the source of development of reality." [Afanasyev (1968), pp.95-97. Italic emphasis in the original; bold emphases added.]

 

"'The contradiction, however, is the source of all movement and life; only in so far as it contains a contradiction can anything have movement, power, and effect.' (Hegel). 'In brief', states Lenin, 'dialectics can be defined as the doctrine of the unity of opposites. This embodies the essence of dialectics…'

 

"The world in which we live is a unity of contradictions or a unity of opposites: cold-heat, light-darkness, Capital-Labour, birth-death, riches-poverty, positive-negative, boom-slump, thinking-being, finite-infinite, repulsion-attraction, left-right, above- below, evolution-revolution, chance-necessity, sale-purchase, and so on.

 

"The fact that two poles of a contradictory antithesis can manage to coexist as a whole is regarded in popular wisdom as a paradox. The paradox is a recognition that two contradictory, or opposite, considerations may both be true. This is a reflection in thought of a unity of opposites in the material world.

 

"Motion, space and time are nothing else but the mode of existence of matter. Motion, as we have explained is a contradiction, -- being in one place and another at the same time. It is a unity of opposites. 'Movement means to be in this place and not to be in it; this is the continuity of space and time -- and it is this which first makes motion possible.' (Hegel)

 

"To understand something, its essence, it is necessary to seek out these internal contradictions. Under certain circumstances, the universal is the individual, and the individual is the universal. That things turn into their opposites, -- cause can become effect and effect can become cause -- is because they are merely links in the never-ending chain in the development of matter.

 

"Lenin explains this self-movement in a note when he says, 'Dialectics is the teaching which shows how opposites can be and how they become identical -- under what conditions they are identical, becoming transformed into one another -- why the human mind should grasp these opposites not as dead, rigid, but living, conditional, mobile, becoming transformed into one another.'" [Rob Sewell, quoted from here.]

 

[Apologies are owed the reader for the length of these quotations, but experience has taught me that unless dialecticians are presented with overwhelming evidence, they tend to deny that the classics say such things! Plainly, they do.]

 

It would not be difficult to double or even treble the length of this list of quotations (as anyone who has access to as many books and articles on dialectics as I have will attest). From the above, it is quite clear that classical and later dialecticians do indeed believe (a) that all change is a result of a "struggle" of "opposites", and (b) that all objects/processes change into their "opposites", and (c) that they produce these "opposites" when they change.

 

As we are about to see, this idea -- that there are such things as "dialectical contradictions" and "unities of opposites" (etc.), which cause change -- presents DM-theorists with some rather nasty dialectical headaches, if interpreted along the lines expressed in the DM-classics.

 

To see this, let us suppose that object/process A is comprised of two "internal contradictory opposites", or "opposite tendencies", O* and O**, and it thus changes as a result.

 

[The same problems arise if these are viewed as 'external' contradictions, or whether we consider A and not-A. However, as we will see in Essay Eight Part One, 'external' contradictions attract serious difficulties of their own.]

 

But, O* cannot itself change into O** since O** already exists! If O** didn't already exist then, according to this theory, O* could not change at all, for there would be no opposite to bring that about, and nothing for it to 'struggle' with. As Gollobin points out:

 

"Opposites in a thing are not only mutually exclusive, polar, repelling, each other; they also attract and interpenetrate each other. They begin and cease to exist together.... These dual aspects of opposites -- conflict and unity -- are like scissor blades in cutting, jaws in mastication, and two legs in walking. Where there is only one, the process as such is impossible: 'all polar opposites are in general determined by the mutual action of two opposite poles on one another, the separation and opposition of these poles exists only within their unity and interconnection, and, conversely, their interconnection exists only in their separation and their unity only in their opposition.' in fact, 'where one no sooner tries to hold on to one side alone then it is transformed unnoticed into the other...'" [Gollobin (1986), p.113; quoting Engels (1891), p.414.]

 

Hence, it's no good propelling O** into the future so that it is what O* will change into, since O* will do no such thing unless O** is already there, in the present, to make that happen! [Which is of course why these opposites have to co-exist.]

[Several obvious objections to this argument will be neutralised below.]

 

So, if object/process A is already composed of a 'dialectical union' of O* and not-O* (interpreting O** now as not-O*), how can O* possibly change into not-O* when not-O* already exists?

 

Several alternatives now suggest themselves which might allow dialecticians to dig themselves out of this Hermetic hole. Either:

 

(1) O* 'changes', not into not-O*, but into not-O1*, meaning (a) There are now two not-O*s where once there was only one (unless, of course, one of these not-O*s just vanishes into thin air -- but, see below), and (b) O* will have changed, not into its opposite,  but into something that isn't its opposite, and with which it hasn't struggled; or:

 

(2) O* does not change, or it simply disappears. Plainly, O* cannot change into what already exists -- that is, O* cannot change into its opposite, not-O*, without there being two of them (see (1) above). But even then, one of these will not be not-O* just a copy of it. In that case, once more: O* either disappears, does not change at all, or changes into something else; or:

 

(3) Not-O* itself disappears to allow a new (but now copy of) not-O* to emerge that O* can and does change into. If so, questions would naturally arise as to how the original not-O* could possibly cause O* to change if is has just vanished. Of course, this option merely postpones the evil day, for the same difficulties will afflict the new not-O* that afflicted the old. If it exists in order to allow O* to change, then we are back where we were a few paragraphs back; or:

 

(4) O* and not-O* change into one another. But, as we will see later, this options presents DM-theorists with even more serious difficulties, since it implies that capitalism must change into socialism, and socialism must change into capitalism! But, worse, it's not easy to see how this can happen if both of these already exist.

 

Anyway, as should seem obvious, among other things already mentioned, alternative (2) plainly means that O* does not in fact change into not-O*, it is just replaced by it. Option (1), on the other hand, has the original not-O* remaining the same (when it was supposed to turn into its own opposite -- i.e., O* -- according to the DM-classics), and options (2) and (3) will only work if matter and/or energy can either be destroyed or created from nowhere!

 

In addition, option (4) has O* and not-O* changing into one another, meaning that (a) there is not net change, or that (b) these have just replaced one another. So, if we label, for instance, Capitalism, "C" and socialism, "S", then these two must co-exist if they are to "struggle" with one another (as Mao pointed out above), the net result being that in the end S and C still co-exist, only they will have now swapped places! Of course, if S already exists, C need not change into it, and socialists need not fight for it!

 

Naturally, these problems will simply re-appear at the next stage as not-O* readies itself to change into whatever it changes into. But, in this case there's an added twist, for there is as yet no not-not-O* in existence to make this happen. This means that the dialectical process will grind to a halt, unless a not-not-O* pops into existence (out of thin air) to start things up again. But what could possibly have engineered that?

 

Indeed, at the very least, this 'theory' of change leaves it entirely mysterious how not-O* itself came about in the first place. It seems to have popped into existence from nowhere, too. [Gollobin (above) sort of half recognises this without realising either his error or the serious problems this creates.]

 

For example, in option (4) above, S must already exist, or there can be no struggle, but where did it come from? From C? And yet it can't have done that, since for C to change and produce S, S must already exist (or there would be no struggle)! And, where did C itself come from? Of course, C came from F (Feudalism), but that in turn means that C and F must co-exist, too, so C can't have come from F (since they must co-exist)! Hence, this 'theory' implies means that either (i) C, S and F must all co-exist, or (ii) All three sprang into existence from nowhere.

 

Of course, C, S and F are all abstractions, and so can't possibly struggle with one another, but the same problems emerge if we concentrate on things that can and do struggle. Let W1 be any randomly selected worker or section of workers in struggle, and let C1 be those capitalists or sections of the capitalist class and their bully-boys with which they struggle. According to the DM-classics, W1 must change into C1 and vice versa. But, this can't happen since both of these already exist; so at best, all they can do is replace one another. Do we see this in the class struggle?

 

The same difficulties arise if we project this into the future and consider the final struggle to overthrow capitalism (if and when that takes place). In that case, let W2 be that section of the workers' movement in actual struggle, and let C2 be those capitalists (and/or those elements that fight their battles for them) with which they are struggling. According to the DM-classics, W2 must change into C2 and vice versa. Again, this can't happen since both of these already exist; so at best, all they can do is replace one another. Are we really all struggling just to become capitalists?

 

Returning to the main argument: in like manner, not-O* cannot have come from O* itself, since O* can only change because of the operation of not-O*, which does not yet exist! And pushing the process into the past (via a 'reversed' version of the NON) will merely reduplicate the above problems, as we have just seen with C, S, and F.

 

[NON = Negation of the Negation. However, on the NON, see below.]

 

It could be objected that all this seems to place objects and/or processes in fixed categories, which is one of the main criticisms dialecticians make of FL. Hence, on that basis, it could be maintained that the above argument is entirely misguided.

 

Fortunately, repairs are easy to make: let us now suppose that object/process A is comprised of two changing "internal/external opposites" O* and O**, (the latter once again interpreted as not-O*), and thus develops as a result.

 

The rest still follows as before: if object/process A is already composed of a changing dialectical union of O* and not-O*, and O* develops into not-O* as a result, then this can't happen. It's not possible for O* to change into not-O* when not-O* already exists.

 

[The same problems, of course, apply if we simply consider A and not-A.]

 

Of course, it could be argued that not-O* develops into O* while not-O* develops into O*.

 

[This objection might even incorporate that eminently obscure Hegelian term-of-art: "sublation". More on that presently.]

 

If that were so, while it was happening, these two would no longer be 'opposites' of one another --, not unless we widen the term "opposite" to mean "anything that an object/process turns into, and/or any intermediate object/process while that is happening". Naturally, that would make this 'Law' work by definitional fiat, rendering it eminently 'subjective', once more.

 

But, if we ignore that 'difficulty' for now, and even supposing it were the case that not-O* 'developed' into O* while not-O* 'developed' into O*, and such process were governed by the obscure term "sublation", this alternative will still not work (as we are about to see).

 

Developing this option further, before it is demolished, it could be argued that Engels had anticipated the above objections when he said:

 

"[RL: Negation of the negation is] a very simple process which is taking place everywhere and every day, which any child can understand as soon as it is stripped of the veil of mystery in which it was enveloped by the old idealist philosophy and in which it is to the advantage of helpless metaphysicians of Herr Dühring's calibre to keep it enveloped. Let us take a grain of barley. Billions of such grains of barley are milled, boiled and brewed and then consumed. But if such a grain of barley meets with conditions which are normal for it, if it falls on suitable soil, then under the influence of heat and moisture it undergoes a specific change, it germinates; the grain as such ceases to exist, it is negated, and in its place appears the plant which has arisen from it, the negation of the grain. But what is the normal life-process of this plant? It grows, flowers, is fertilised and finally once more produces grains of barley, and as soon as these have ripened the stalk dies, is in its turn negated. As a result of this negation of the negation we have once again the original grain of barley, but not as a single unit, but ten-, twenty- or thirtyfold. Species of grain change extremely slowly, and so the barley of today is almost the same as it-was a century ago. But if we take a plastic ornamental plant, for example a dahlia or an orchid, and treat the seed and the plant which grows from it according to the gardener's art, we get as a result of this negation of the negation not only more seeds, but also qualitatively improved seeds, which produce more beautiful flowers, and each repetition of this process, each fresh negation of the negation, enhances this process of perfection. [Engels (1976), pp.172-73. Bold emphases added.]

 

"But someone may object: the negation that has taken place in this case is not a real negation: I negate a grain of barley also when I grind it, an insect when I crush it underfoot, or the positive quantity a when I cancel it, and so on. Or I negate the sentence: the rose is a rose, when I say: the rose is not a rose; and what do I get if I then negate this negation and say: but after all the rose is a rose? -- These objections are in fact the chief arguments put forward by the metaphysicians against dialectics, and they are wholly worthy of the narrow-mindedness of this mode of thought. Negation in dialectics does not mean simply saying no, or declaring that something does not exist, or destroying it in any way one likes. Long ago Spinoza said: Omnis determinatio est negatio -- every limitation or determination is at the same time a negation. And further: the kind of negation is here determined, firstly, by the general and, secondly, by the particular nature of the process. I must not only negate, but also sublate the negation. I must therefore so arrange the first negation that the second remains or becomes possible. How? This depends on the particular nature of each individual case. If I grind a grain of barley, or crush an insect, I have carried out the first part of the action, but have made the second part impossible. Every kind of thing therefore has a peculiar way of being negated in such manner that it gives rise to a development, and it is just the same with every kind of conception or idea....

 

"But it is clear that from a negation of the negation which consists in the childish pastime of alternately writing and cancelling a, or in alternately declaring that a rose is a rose and that it is not a rose, nothing eventuates but the silliness of the person who adopts such a tedious procedure. And yet the metaphysicians try to make us believe that this is the right way to carry out a negation of the negation, if we ever should want to do such a thing. [Ibid., pp.180-81. Bold emphases added.]

 

Engels's argument seems to be that "dialectical negation" is not the same as ordinary negation in that it is not simple destruction. Dialectical negation "sublates"; that is, it both destroys and preserves, so that something new or 'higher' emerges as a result. Nevertheless, we have already seen here, that Hegel's use of this word (i.e., "sublate") is highly suspect in itself, and we will also see below that this 'Law' (i.e., the NON) is even more dubious still (partly because Hegel confused ordinary negation with 'cancelling out', or with destruction, as, indeed, did Engels).

 

Well, despite all this, is it the case that the above comments neutralise the argument presented in this part of the Essay? Is the argument here guilty of the following:

 

"These objections are in fact the chief arguments put forward by the metaphysicians against dialectics, and they are wholly worthy of the narrow-mindedness of this mode of thought." [Ibid.]

 

To answer this, let us once again suppose that object/process A is comprised of two changing "internal opposites" O* and not-O*, and thus develops as a result. On this scenario, O* would change/develop into a "sublated" intermediary, but not into not-O* -- incidentally, contradicting the DM-worthies quoted earlier. Given what they tell us, O* should, of course, change into not-O*, not into some intermediary.

 

Putting this minor quibble to one side, too: Given this 'revised' view, let us suppose that O* does indeed change into that intermediary. To that end, let us call the latter, "Oi*" (which can be interpreted as a combination of the old and the new; a 'negation' which also 'preserves'/'sublates').

 

If so, then Oi* must remain forever in that state, unchanged, for there is as yet no not-Oi* in existence to make it develop any further!

 

[Recall that on this 'theory', everything (and that must include Oi*) changes because of a 'struggle' with its 'opposite'.]

 

So, there must be a not-Oi* to make Oi* change further. To be sure, we could try to exempt Oi* from this essential requirement on an ad hoc basis (arguing, perhaps, that Oi* changes spontaneously with nothing actually causing it), and yet if we do that, there would seem to be no reason to accept the version of events contained in the DM-classics, which tells us that every thing/process in the entire universe changes because of the "struggle" of opposites (and Oi* is certainly a thing/process). Furthermore, if we make an exemption here, then the whole point of the exercise would be lost, for if some things do and some things do not change according this dialectical 'Law', we would be left with no way of telling which changes were and which were not subject to it.

 

[That would also mean that the Second 'Law' was not a 'law' either, just like the First  isn't.]

 

This is, of course, quite apart from the fact that such a subjectively applied exemption certificate (issued to Oi*) would mean that nothing at all could change, for everything in the universe is in the process of change, and is thus already a 'sublated' version of whatever it used to be.

 

Ignoring this, too, even if Oi* were to change into not-Oi* (as we suppose it must, given the doctrine laid down in the DM-classics), then all the earlier problems simply reappear, for this could only take place if not-Oi* already exists to make it happen! But not-Oi* cannot already exist, for Oi* has not changed into it yet!

 

Once more, it could be objected that the dialectical negation of O* to produce not-O* is not ordinary negation, as the above seems to assume.

 

In that case, let us say that O* turns into its 'sublated' opposite not-Os*. But, if that is to happen, according to the Dialectical Classics, not-Os* must already exist! If so, O* cannot turn into not-Os*, for it already exists! On the other hand, if not-Os* does not already exist, then O* cannot change, for O* can only change if it "struggles" with what it changes into, i.e., not-Os*.

 

Once again, we hit the same non-dialectical brick wall.

 

It could be objected that the above abstract argument misses the point; in the real world things manifestly change. For example, it might be the case that John is a boy, but in a few years time it will be the case that John is a man. Now, the fact that other individuals are already men, does not stop John changing into a man (his opposite), as the above argues. So, John can change into his opposite even though that opposite already exists.

 

Or, so it could be claimed.

 

But, this theory tells us that all things/processes change because they "struggle" with their opposites, and they "struggle" with what they become. Are we now to assume that John has to struggle with all the individuals that are already men if he is to become a man himself (if we now treat all these other men as John's opposites)? Or, are we to suppose that John struggles with what he is to become, even before it/he exists? If not, then the above response is beside the point. And, in view of the fact that John must turn into his opposite, does that mean he has to turn into these other men, too --  or, perhaps, into one of them? But, it seems he must if the Dialectical Classics are to be believed.

 

Anyway, according to the DM-worthies quoted above, John can only change because of a struggle between opposites taking place in the here-and-now. Are we really supposed to believe that "John as a man" is struggling with "John as a boy" -- or that manhood is struggling with boyhood?

 

Some might be tempted to reply that this is precisely what adolescence is, and yet, in that case, John-as-boy and John-as-a-man would have to be locked in struggle in the present. [Of course, adolescence cannot struggle with anything, since it's an abstraction. And a struggle in John's mind over what he is to become cannot make him develop into a man, either.] But, John-as-a-man does not yet exist, and so John-as-a-man cannot struggle with John-as-boy. On the other hand, if John-as-a-man does exist, so that 'he' can struggle with his youthful self, then John-as-boy cannot change into 'him', for John-as-a-man already exists!

 

To be sure, John's 'opposite' is whatever he will become (if he is allowed to develop naturally), but, as noted above, that 'opposite' cannot now exist otherwise John would not need to become him! And if it doesn't exist, he can't change.

 

Looking at this more concretely, in ten or fifteen years time, John will not become just any man, he will become a particular man. In that case, let us call the man that John becomes "ManJ". But, once again, ManJ must exist now or John cannot change into him (if the DM-classics quoted earlier are to be believed), for John can only become a man if he is now locked in struggle with his own opposite, ManJ. But, if that is so, John cannot become ManJ since ManJ already exists!

 

Consider another concrete example: wood being fashioned into a table. Once more, according to the dialectical classics, all objects and processes change because of a 'struggle' of opposites, and they also change into those opposites.

So, the wood that is used to make a table, according to this 'theory', has to 'struggle' with what it turns into, that is, this wood has to 'struggle' with the table it turns into!

In that case, the table must already exist, or it could not 'struggle' with the wood from which it is to be made.

But, if the table already exists, then the wood cannot be changed into it. [And why bother making a table that already exists?]

On the other hand, if the table does not already exist, then the wood cannot 'struggle' with its own opposite, that is, it cannot 'struggle' with the table it has yet to become.

Either way, change could not happen, according to this 'theory'.

 

And it's little use introducing human agency here, for if a carpenter is required to make a table, then he/she has to 'struggle' with the wood to make it into a table -- since we are told that every object and process in nature is governed by this 'Law'. But, according to the Dialectical Classics, objects and processes 'struggle' with their dialectical 'opposites', and they turn into those opposites. If so, wood must turn into the carpenter, not the table! And the carpenter must change into wood!

 

With a crazy theory like this at its core, is it any wonder Dialectical Marxism is a by-word for failure?
 

[These, of course, are simply more concrete versions of the argument outlined above.]

 

Consider another hackneyed example: water turning into steam at 100oC (under normal conditions). Are we really supposed to believe that the opposite that water becomes (i.e., steam) makes water turn into steam? But, this must be so if the Dialectical Classics are to be believed.

 

Hence, while you might think it's the heat/energy you are putting into the water that turns it into steam, what really happens, according to these wise old dialecticians, is that steam makes water turn into steam!

 

In that case, save energy and turn the gas off!

 

To that end, let us track a water molecule to see what happens to it. To identify it, we shall call it "W1", and the steam molecule it turns into "S1". But, if the DM-classics above are correct, S1 must already exist, otherwise W1 can't struggle with it and thus change into it! Again, if that is so, where does S1 disappear to if W1 changes into it?

 

In fact, according to the Dialectical classics, since opposites turn into one another, S1 must change into W1 at the same time as W1 is turning into S1! So while you are boiling a kettle, according to this Superscientific 'theory', steam must be condensing back into the water you are boiling, and it must be doing so at the same rate!

 

One wonders, therefore, how dialectical kettles manage to boil dry.

 

This must be so otherwise when W1 turns into S1 -- which already exists, or W1 could not change into it -- there would have to be two S1s where there used to be only one! [Matter created from nowhere?]

 

Of course, the same argument applies to water freezing (and to any and all other alleged examples of DM-change).

 

It could be objected that the opposite that liquid water turns into is a gas; so the dialectical classicists are correct. However, if we take them at their word, then that gas must 'struggle' with liquid water in the here-and-now if water is to change into it. But that gas does not yet exist; in which case, water would never boil if this 'theory' were true. And yet, even if it did, it's heat that causes the change not the gas! However we try and slice it, this 'theory' is totally useless -- that is, what little sense can be made of it.

 

It could be argued that what happens is that it's heat energy input into this system that makes water boil. Indeed, but then, if heat makes water boil, that water must struggle with this heat, and then change into it, just as heat must change into water!

 

If not, the DM-classics are wrong, and dialecticians are left with no theory of change.

 

This, of course, does not deny that change occurs, only that DM cannot account for it.

 

Alternatively, if DM were true, change would be impossible.

 

[I have now written an updated version of the above, here; objections to this line of argument are considered in detail here.]

 

At the first of the above links, this argument is then applied to social processes, and shown not to work there either -- no wonder, since the general ('abstract') argument applies to any and all change as DM-fans see it, but it would stretch the patience of the reader even more if I added that section to this reply!

 

In formal logic, you may not (but can) hold to contradictory propositions at the same time . In dialectical logic, two propositions may be separately false but jointly true; health is socially determined, and you are responsible for your health. Either one alone can result in passivity but jointly can result in self-care and collective action...


In that case, of course, they aren't propositions, since, if it is not clear what is being proposed, nothing has been proposed.

 

I am not sure, however, how the health example is supposed to help.

 

5. You can create formally disjunct mathematical sets, but with real things no division of a whole world into mutually exclusive categories really holds. Environmental/genetic, physical/psychological, biological/social, etc interpenetrate, and furthermore it is when we recognize their interpenetration that we get the exciting new insights.

 

This does not seem to be even remotely true. For example, in the real world we can form two entirely and completely disjoint sets quite easily. Here are a few examples: 1) Objects now on Pluto vs objects now at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean; 2) Human beings over seven feet tall vs mice under 50 ounces in weight; 3) Every car produced in Detroit before 1970 vs every jellyfish that lived in the Cretaceous, and so on.

 

Of course, this might not be what Richard means, but then it is not too clear what he does mean. Nor is it too clear what the obscure term "interpenetrate" means either. Do these categories/sets have sex?

 

Exception might be taken to that supercilious remark, but until we are told with greater degree of clarity what dialecticians mean by their odd use of words, that is the only response it merits.

 

[From the context, though, I rather suspect Richard means "overlap" since he is talking about allegedly mutually exclusive sets/categories. But, in that case, "interpenetrate" is just a pretentious way of saying some sets overlap! However, I am not sure very much Dialectical Superscience can be milked from this rather mundane observation, no matter how many Hermetically-inspired incantations are said over it.]

 

All of these and other aspects of contradiction make it an important tool in science.

 

Well, I know that Richard, and Richard Lewontin, try to argue that these are useful in science, but, as we are still unclear what 'dialectical contradictions' are, it's impossible to agree with him/them. And until he/they succeed in making this clear, it's impossible for one or both of these two Richards to agree with it, either!

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