Dialectics

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jef costello
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Jul 29 2006 06:15
Dialectics

I thought that dialectics were simple. There was a thesis and an antithesis, which came together to form a synthesis. A new antithesis would invariably be created, either externally or through a breakdown of the synthesis.
A couple of recent posts have suggested that this view is either wrong or at least simplistic.

Quote:
But yes, it does split capital, rather crudely and undialectically, into a progressive and regressive period that either is moralistic or that relies on a crudely economistic determinism

Now this split could be undialectic because it does not take account of the fact that a new antithesis will emerge, or it could mean something entirely different.

Revol also said (can't find out where, apologies if I'm incorrect) that my view of dialectics was as binaries and that that was incorrect as dialecics were plural.

On a level they are opposites, although they are not stable binaries (if such a thing can be said to exist). Is the plurality from the successive oppositions of thesis and antithesis or is it something else?

I know I could google or wiki this but I'd prefer a more appropriate definition as I've picked up my definition from somewhere.

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Jul 29 2006 07:35

I've been reading Felton Shortall's The Incomplete Marx. He explains dialectics as contradictions. He argues that Hegel's dialectic was closed, because it posited a unified totality of contradictions, whereas Marx's dialectic is radically open because the totality (capital) has the potential to be ruptured by its counter-dialectic of class struggle. Does that help or just add jargon to the pot?

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Jul 29 2006 07:37
Joseph K. wrote:
Does that help or just add jargon to the pot?

I don't really understand it, I think I might be looking for a more basic definition first. Or a simpler explanation of what you've just said.

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Jul 29 2006 08:20

Bascically dialectics is a method that begins with contradictions and their consequences, rather than for example empirical study (positivism).

Beltov
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Jul 29 2006 10:44

Hi,

Jef, have you looked at the entry for Dialectics in the encyclopedia on Marxists.org?
http://marxists.org/glossary/terms/d/i.htm#dialectics

B.

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Jul 29 2006 11:16
Beltov wrote:
Jef, have you looked at the entry for Dialectics in the encyclopedia on Marxists.org?
http://marxists.org/glossary/terms/d/i.htm#dialectics

the first bit's quite good but this is a bit twisted:

marxists.org wrote:
One example of dialectics we can see in one of Lenin's call: “All Power to the Soviets” spoken when the Soviets were against the Bolsheviks. Lenin understood, however, that the impasse could only be resolved by workers’ power and since the Soviets were organs of workers’ power, a revolutionary initiative by the Bolsheviks would inevitably bring the Soviets to their side

So dialectically, 'all power to the soviets' means 'lets get the soviets to support The Party'. Right, no wonder dialectics are confusing roll eyes

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Jul 29 2006 12:20

Thanks for the help guys.
Dialectics doesn't really mean what I thought it did then.
From what I can gather dialectics seems to be pretty much common sense, try to look at the whole, recognise that nothing is truly stable, as it is composed of competing contradictions.

Either I am missing something or when people talk about dialectics they are not really saying anything at all.

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Jul 29 2006 12:25
jef costello wrote:
Either I am missing something or when people talk about dialectics they are not really saying anything at all.

ssshhh!

well the ideas that make dialectics common sense (complexity theory, ecology etc) have become much more popular and accepted since Marx's day, when Comte's positivism was sweeping away dialectics with it's 'objectivity'. But yeah, its just a method and a fairly simple one at that, which isn't to say you can't do complex things with it.

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Jul 29 2006 12:58

Good point Joseph K. I wasn't trying to be rude, I suppose we do tend to pick up a lot of these things by osmosis and as a result they tend to get divorced from context and seem less important than they otherwise might.

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Jul 29 2006 16:56
jef costello wrote:
Either I am missing something or when people talk about dialectics they are not really saying anything at all.

It's the latter, really. It's good to give fancy names to very slight ideas, it makes them seem more mysterious.

fruitloop
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Aug 1 2006 11:55

Which in turn makes it far easier to milk an academic career out of the state.

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Aug 1 2006 12:12

which in turn is part of the dialectic of blagging wink

Lazlo_Woodbine
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Aug 1 2006 21:50

Which in turn undermines itself through the production of critical theories and simultaneously supports itself. Ahhhhh.

redtwister
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Aug 29 2006 20:51

I'll grab something, as most of what has been said here leaves a little to be desired.

I will say that often the approach is to discern between analytical logic and dialectical logic, and you may benefit to some extent from thinking in those terms to start.

For example, one could say that analytical logic starts from the premise that here is a thing, let's analyze its constitutent properties. What is it made of? What are its properties? How does it relate to other objects? But the relationship between the analyst and the object is wholly external and the object is taken for granted as existing, that there is no difference between how the thing appears and what it is, its content.

Dialectical logic does not impose a method of analysis on the object. Rather, the idea is to think out of the object, to ask about the genesis of the object; why does this thing take that form? What is the relation of the form of the object to its content? Etc.

The difference is more explicit if one considers capital:

Political economy (Marxist or not) considers commodities as mere things. It takes value as something that is produced. Labor is merely the substance of value and therefore it has a 'labor theory of value' which assumes 1) the value is a thing to be measured and 2) that labor produces this thing.

Marx's critique of political economy asks something different. Rather than a labor theory of value, Marx has a value theory of labor: why does this activity take that form? Why does human productive activity appear to us in the form of labor that produces value? And why do items of utility appear to us in the form of commodities? And why do we measure qualitatively unlike things through a single, quantiative notion? Value, for example, appears nowhere in nature. It is a specific form of relations between people.

so where analytical logic takes for granted its object and as such never really recognizes its object because it starts not from inside the object, but from the observer, dialectical logic moves out from within the object, asks what its genesis, its own inner logic is.

Marx's emphasis is always on humanity, Mensch, on human relations, not on some abstract, natural-scientific materialism, either. The issue of whether or not nature is dialectical is a whole other discussion. As such, to bring up complexity, etc. is a distraction, at least at the moment.

Certainly issues like contradiction, totality, mediation, etc all would have to be taken into account for a full treatment, but then again, I wonder if it is possible to write an abstract book of dialectic, as dialectic is a logic out of an object, not a method one applies from outside. As such, it takes a lot of work to master the material of that which one wishes to grasp "dialectically". I really do not think that a book of dialectical method makes any sense at all. Hegel certainly never really did this (even his Logic is a work of philosophical commentary, conerned with ontological issues and knowing, so I am not sure it is quite that either.)

Just as there is no way to learn analytical logic in its post 1850 complexity without reading some very difficult material, it is not possible to grasp actual dialectic without making a certain commitment. The comments so far against display little knowledge and that is common.

Here try a few things:
http://www.riff-raff.se/en/furtherreading/gunn_metatheory.php
Ch. 4 of Zizek's Tarrying with the Negative

they compliment each other nicely.

Longer and more painful:
Adorno's Negative Dialectics
Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit

Cheers,
Chris

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Aug 29 2006 23:33

marxists.org is run by a trotsky sympathizer

redtwister
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Sep 5 2006 18:53
oldmoleshadow wrote:
marxists.org is run by a trotsky sympathizer

If only it were that clear.

Some people are Trots and Trot sympathizers. Others are quite hostile to Trotskyism.

The plethora of texts snatched from endpage/libcom should attest to that, a list of authors and texts that they ignored for years.

The sad part is that so much of the editorial content is written by fucking knobs. The histories, the topical areas, etc. just suck.

Chris

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Sep 7 2006 12:56

As redtwister says, it would be hard to write an abstract book on dialectics; it is very open ended and is really a method for identifying possibilities through accounting for change and interaction.

To expand on what you wrote about analytical logic that phenomena are things; dialectics treats phenomena as processes. Positivst science account for change by quantifying "moments" at different intervals. I.e. to account for voter change one might take voter records from one election and compare it to the next one after or ten years after. The difference is then taken for change. However, this does not really tell us why and how change occured.

With the dialectical method and abstraction change is treated as inherent in what is being studied. This includes not only the present and the past, but also its possible future (it is from the point of view of capitalism that Marx writes about communism) In addition, what underpins the dialectical method is the philosophy of internal relations, which has what seems like a very peculiar ontology when seen from a positivist point of view (which is the view we are taught in school mostly. while it makes a lot of sense in the hard sciences, it is in the social sciences that it mystifies).

In positivst science you start with the parts (reduced to their bare minimum or appearance) and then connect them as a whole. E.g. you will study the economy as if it had no relation to actual existing people. With dialectics on the other hand you start with the whole (present capitalist society ), or the real-concrete, go from there to abstractions (equivalent of parts) and end up with the thought concrete (Marxist theory). A part does not have an ontological prior existence to the whole (i.e. it does not exist independently for itself), and its characteristics is also acquired from being part of a whole. The parts does not have an inter-relationship (e.g. as binaries or thesis-antithesis), but are in an inner-relationship.

For this reason, Marxist abstractions are nearly without boundaries, spatially or temporally. This is why dialectics is a bit difficult to grasp Each and every Marxist abstraction (Marx called them relations) should be seen as containing all of his other concepts. I.e. contained in the commodity you will have the wage-labour relationship, the enclosure, class struggle, alienation etc.

Aaand this is really just scratching the surface.

I would suggest
Bertel Ollman's Dance of the Dialectic (somewhat heavy)

or

Ken Cole's Economy-Environment-Development-Knowledge. This book is a bit easier, and what it does is to compare the different theoretical (and by extionsion practical) approaches to ec-env-dev-knowledge.

LBird
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Oct 7 2011 08:18
Khawaga wrote:
I would suggest
Bertel Ollman's Dance of the Dialectic (somewhat heavy)

or

Ken Cole's Economy-Environment-Development-Knowledge.

Khawaga, I know this is an old thread, but I was looking for some discussion on dialectics and came upon this, so I hope you don't mind me resurrecting it.

If you're no longer interested in this sort of thing, just ignore this post.

Some background:
You'll probably know that I've got a vague interest in the philosophy of science, and recently, after looking at LibCom's reading recommendations, I read Helena Sheehan's Marxism and the Philosphy of Science. Although I disagree with much of Sheehan's book (she seems to be a bit of an apologist for Stalinism), it made me want to read more about dialectics.

So, I got hold of the two books you recommended, above. Up until now, I've only had time to read Ollman's book, and, again, I think I agree with some of his views, but disagree about others.

Are you up for a discussion? As you'll well know, I have my opinions, but I'm always prepared to discuss things, and, more pertinently, on the issue of dialectics my views are at present very tentative. I could do with someone else's opinions, to help me think things through. Of course, this doesn't mean we'll end up agreeing, but I'd value your input.

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Oct 7 2011 09:32

Q: What's red & invisible?
A: No tomatoes.

Determinate negation in handy joke form.

LBird
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Oct 7 2011 10:40
the button wrote:
Q: What's red & invisible?
A: No tomatoes.

Determinate negation in handy joke form.

Q: What's negation of the negation?
A: Nonsense.

'Law' of Dialectics in handy dismissal form.

Alexander Roxwell
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Oct 8 2011 00:18

I think that it might help to think of any "thing" or any "situation" not as a stable thing or situation but as a "unity of opposites." For instance "Capitalism" is not a stable thing or situation that can be understood as "just sitting there" but is a temporary equilibrium of opposing forces. You have capitalists striving for maximum profit. You have workers striving for maximum wages and minimum hours. Today the "tug-of-war" is temporarily "balanced" at one point. Tomorrow it may be balanced at some other point. The tug-of-war under Capitalism is the class struggle. That is what everything is, a "unity of opposites" and the tug-of-war sometimes pulls all the way over here and sometimes pulls all the way over there. Ultimately there can be a "synthesis" where the "opposition" is resolved and a new opposition comes to the fore.

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Oct 8 2011 03:54
LBird wrote:
Are you up for a discussion? As you'll well know, I have my opinions, but I'm always prepared to discuss things, and, more pertinently, on the issue of dialectics my views are at present very tentative. I could do with someone else's opinions, to help me think things through. Of course, this doesn't mean we'll end up agreeing, but I'd value your input.

Sure, shoot some questions. But I don't have a lot of typing time on my hands (have to reserve that for my studies and work unfortunately even though my learning is actually heavily libcom based wink

LBird
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Oct 8 2011 08:15
Khawaga wrote:
Sure, shoot some questions. But I don't have a lot of typing time on my hands (have to reserve that for my studies and work unfortunately even though my learning is actually heavily libcom based

Thanks for answering my call, Khawaga. And you’re right about LibCom’s didactic function! Fortunately for me though, my personal studies are vaguely related to this issue of dialectics.

First, I’d like to make clear my perspective. I think Lakatos’ idea of a ‘hard core’ is the most useful way of conceptualising the way scientists work. I agree with him that there is (to paraphrase his ideas in my terms) always an active, social and ideological human asking questions of nature. I have no time for 19th century positivism, which regarded individual humans as passively experiencing nature through their own senses and abhorred ‘theory’ as clouding the ‘truth’.

That brief outlining leads me on to my first question. Ollman insists that Marx’s dialectical method consists of moving from the concrete to the theoretical through the method of the ‘process of abstraction’.

Ollman, p. 60, wrote:
...Marx claims that his method starts from the “real concrete” (the world as it presents itself to us) and proceeds through “abstraction” (the intellectual activity of breaking this whole down into the mental units with which we think about it)...[my bold]

This, to me, sounds like positivism. Science now knows that the scientific method always starts from a hypothesis (ie., theory or ideology) and proceeds to actively interrogate the ‘real concrete’. That is, in my terms, an ideology is required to make sense of a pre-existing reality.

This is the same problem in historiography of ‘selection’. I’m sure you’ve read E. H. Carr and his ‘fishing’ analogy in What is History?, that historians are like fishermen and ‘facts’ are like fish. The ‘facts’ don’t automatically present themselves in their entirety onto the fisherman’s plate for impartial examination. The fisherman gets the fish that he looks for; as does the historian get his ‘facts’.

I’m inclined to think, if this really was Marx’s method, that it was influenced by 19th century positivist science, and that Marx was incorrect on this point. Humans can’t start from the ‘real concrete’ (ie. induction); they start from ‘theory’ (ie. deduction).

I’d like your opinion on this method of ‘rising from the concrete through abstraction’. I think Ollman (and/or Marx) is wrong on this point. I’d posit that, on the contrary, we ‘descend from abstraction into the concrete’. What we ‘select’ from the ‘concrete’ determines what we ‘see’.

PS. I should emphasise at this point that there seems, to me, to be much of value in some version of dialectics that I wish to employ, which I hope to discuss later. It’s just that some of ‘dialectics’ is meaningless nonsense to me, and I’d like to check if I’m missing something, in your opinion. I’m just trying to start at the base. Lots of Ollman’s book has proved to be very enlightening.

I particularly liked (and this quote alone was worth the price of the book):

Pareto (the Italian sociologist, in 1902) wrote:
Marx's words are like bats. One can see in them both birds and mice.
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Oct 8 2011 15:17

Re-read this and I'm still not entirely sure I understand what dialectics is.
Glad to see the button's back though.

LBird
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Oct 8 2011 15:40
jef costello wrote:
Re-read this and I'm still not entirely sure I understand what dialectics is.
Glad to see the button's back though.

No, the reason I resurrected this old thread is precisely because I'm not entirely sure I understand what dialectics is.

I suppose I think some of it is mystifying bullshit, but some seems to me to have some use. Feel free to ask me for clarifications of anything that I'm asking Khawaga about, because often just being forced to rephrase a question can help to throw fresh light on it.

Don't forget, I'm trying to start at the philosophical beginning, and then gradually move onto more recognisable territory, like 'laws of dialectics', etc.

Plus, I'm not expecting complete agreement, just wanting to see the differences between differing viewpoints.

So, I don't want anyone telling me I'm 'wrong', just that they 'disagree' with me. And that's fine.

Perhaps I should add that this last point isn't aimed at you, jef. I'm just making a general point, for those out there who already 'know the truth' about 'dialectics'. I don't want the 'truth', I just want opinions, especially from those who explain by making clear their philosophical assumptions why they disagree.

I hope we, and Khawaga and others, all learn.

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Oct 8 2011 15:56

You got to read Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit man. I haven't, but I know I should. Deleuze describes the dialectic as conceptual baggy clothes, i like this description but I haven't read Hegel so I can't really comment.

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I’m inclined to think, if this really was Marx’s method, that it was influenced by 19th century positivist science, and that Marx was incorrect on this point. Humans can’t start from the ‘real concrete’ (ie. induction); they start from ‘theory’ (ie. deduction).

I thought Marx's method started from the 'concrete' as it 'appears' (erscheint), then move to abstraction, then back to the concrete. Or at least, thats how it appears [sic] to me in Capital. At first it does smack of positivism your right, and to a certain extent Marx is coming from that position. The royal road to science and all that jazz. But this is what I thought was meant by Marx's 'immanent critique'. He starts from the position of positivist bourgeois political economy and shows why it sucks. To highlight how, by using their own methods, the bourgeois economies falter on the shores of contradiction, which brings us back to dialectics.

piter
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Oct 8 2011 16:13
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LBird wrote :
Don't forget, I'm trying to start at the philosophical beginning, and then gradually move onto more recognisable territory, like 'laws of dialectics', etc.

I feel that the famous "laws" are not what is more relevant with dialectics.

if it is about laws it is in the way Pannekoek understand it in "Lenin as philosopher". I think it is a useful read about dialectics (even if it is not the main subject of the book).

LBird
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Oct 8 2011 16:18
Arbeiten wrote:
You got to read Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit man.

Well, I haven't, and I won't be!

I remember looking at some of Hegel's writings once, and that was enough. He makes Marx's style look like reading 'Janet and John'. One American philosopher likens reading Hegel to 'getting sucked into a whirlpool' (see Ollman, p. 59).

As you might already be aware, I haven't got much time for 19th century bullshitters, who disappear up their own arses. I'm not following...

No, I'm far more interested to ask questions, in English, and receive answers, in English.

Like, to you Arbeiten, 'how can one start from the concrete?' Isn't that positivism? Surely science poses questions of 'the concrete'? So, the scientific method starts from the human mind (ie, the 'abstract'), not the 'concrete'?

This, to me, is the first obstacle to be overcome in my enquiries.

LBird
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Oct 8 2011 16:22
piter wrote:
I feel that the famous "laws" are not what is more relevant with dialectics.

I think we're going to get on just fine, mate!

But I'd rather leave the issue of the 'laws' for later, just for now, and stick with my original question to Khawaga about 'concrete' and 'abstract'. This appears, it seems to me at the moment, to be a fundamental point that needs clarification.

piter
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Oct 8 2011 16:26

well...what is to start? wink

also you have to distinguish sometimes the order of research and the order of exposition of the results. ans also the mind can also be the concrete(as your friend Hegel would say "the more abstract is the more concrete" wink )

Hegel is a hard read (but it is well written in some way. ans some parts are not that difficult, for ex the intro of the "science of logic" if I remmember well, which is really good) but I think its worth it (but hopefully not an absolute necessity to understand dialectics).

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Oct 8 2011 16:43

hmmm, well I am not sure about your conflation of Marxism and science here wink. I'm a bit on the fence as to whether call Marxism a science proper (Just to clarify this slightly, I'm damned if I even know what science is). But thats a side issue. how I understand Marx's method in Capital is that his mode of argumentation 'starts' from the concrete (commodity fetishism, the 'appearance' I deliberately put in scare quotes above because although this is where Marx 'starts' he does not accept the concrete as it first 'appears'), only in order to show that it is not enough to start from the position of positivism. The way I see it, and I could be wrong, but Marx 'starts' from the 'concrete' as it 'appears' to bourgeois political economy only to prove that this was an erroneous starting position. It is a convoluted detour that he makes, but it had to be done.

On reading Hegel, I think if your not prepared to read the Phenomenology, then you should at least read a book on Hegel and Dialectics. If Marx's whole method (that you want to understand more thoroughly) is an implicit conversation with Hegel's, then surely you got to understand what he is trying to critique and overcome. This is how I feel about it anyway.

There is some good stuff on marx's method in David Harvey's book on Capital. Maybe take it from there?