Part 2 of Rosa's treatise on abstraction:

The continuation of the argument involves the problem of universals, the difficulties of rationalism and empiricism, and German idealism as an illegitimate attempt to overcome all these difficulties, resurrecting mystical generalities to overcome the unruliness of bourgeois individualism.

Lenin apparently, because of his favorable citation of Hegel, is guilty of perpetuating these sins.

Rosa introduces a curious defense of ordinary language which will also play into the subsequent chapter on formal logic:

Indeed, this is why stress has been placed in these Essays on our capacity to use material language in the public domain, in the way that most of us manage to do daily with ease. Naturally, this is also why serious questions have been raised about the ability we are all supposed to possess of being able to squeeze unlimited abstract epistemological juice out of a few passages of desiccated discourse, in the privacy of our own minds.

In contrast, the approach adopted here means that the scientific aspects of human cognition are open to view, subject to public scrutiny -- unlike the mystical inner rituals that underlie abstraction.

Both formal logic and ordinary language are perfectly adequate tools for cognition, as long as philosophers--all of whom are idealists--don't screw things up. A highly implausible thesis.

The following section deals with the problem of "appearance" and "reality", and the difference between "accident" and "essence". The Trotskyist Rees is then used as a foil for the confused thinking of dialecticians. She takes great pains to demonstrate that reality cannot contradict appearances. Aside from strictly logical fallacies, there are false presuppositions at work here. For instance, Rosa says that "appearances are part of reality." Didn't Hegel say the same thing, though?

By a similar argument, the 'Contradiction' Between Science And 'Commonsense' is also shown to be bogus.

The idealist metaphysical consequences of this mode of thinking are drawn out.

All of this is to show that whatever else may be said about the relation of appearance and reality, the notion of 'contradiction' is inapplicable. And this is mainly by way of showing up Rees' sloppy reasoning? Is all this worth the effort?

Perhaps the most interesting piece of this chapter is a footnote wherein Frege's parody of Cantor is quoted. This is likened to Marx and Engels' parody of Hegelian abstraction, regrettably later forgotten in practice.

Note footnote 33, about ordinary language:

Philosophers and scientists frequently confuse ordinary language with 'commonsense.' With respect to the alleged contradiction between appearance and reality -- occasioned by modern theories that the earth moves, for instance -- such thinkers have in mind the supposed link between certain "folk" theories (i.e., theories that hold that the Earth is stationary while the Sun moves) and everyday language. In this case, it is that incongruity, say, connected with the use of the word "sunrise". This is supposed to demonstrate the fact that ordinary language still contains concepts derived from defunct metaphysical, religious or quasi-scientific theories, which allegedly means that the vernacular is defective.

However, even if such inferences and links were part of the 'commonsense view', that would not imply that the vernacular depended upon or encapsulated outmoded scientific/metaphysical theories. This can be seen from the fact that all of us (including scientists) still employ terms like "sunrise" despite our assenting to modern theories of the Universe. We are not to suppose that when scientists use the word "sunrise" they do so ironically or thoughtlessly.

Moreover, unless scientists and philosophers used and already understood terms taken from ordinary language, they could scarcely begin to correct 'commonsense -– always assuming that the latter needed correcting, or even that this is what scientists/philosophers in fact do.


However, a much more revealing fact about ordinary language -– and one easily missed - is that we can readily form the negations of sentences that contain such allegedly obsolete notions (like the daily ascent of the Sun). Consider, for example, the following:

 S1: The Sun rises in the morning.

S2: It is not the case that the Sun rises in the morning.

The facility we have in ordinary language of being able to negate every indicative empirical sentence demonstrates that the vernacular is neither a theory nor is it dependent upon one. This is because -- to use aother argument of Peter Geach's -- no viable theory could countenance the negation of all its empirical propositions, as ordinary language readily does.


Of course, scientific theories extend, develop and replace the meanings of ordinary words by the use of analogy and metaphor (etc.), and they employ technical terms not found in the vernacular. But unless the latter were linked to ordinary language and practice at some point, their meanings would remain completely indeterminate -- and the theories to which they belonged would be incomprehensible.

Returning to the case in point, the view defended here means that the word "sunrise" is no more problematic than words such as "nightfall" and "daybreak" are. No one imagines that the use of "nightfall" commits anyone to a "folk theory" of the susceptibilities of darkness to the law of gravity, or that "daybreak" suggests that mornings are brittle. Indeed, and to change the example, no one (certainly no scientist) believes that when someone catches the 'flu (or influenza) there is some sort of cosmic influence at work, even though as matter of fact the original use of this scientific word (from medieval Latin, influentia) was based on an ancient mystical theory about there being just such a stellar influence. Still less would anyone be eager to accept the idea that when someone is described as "hysterical" this means that that person has a wandering womb (even though that particular idea used to be based on a former scientific belief that wombs could wander; Greek: hysteria or 'womb'). Nor do psychologists now think that "lunatics" are sensitive to phases of the Moon -– or even that phlegmatic individuals have a superabundance of phlegm --, and so on. In fact, if the term "Big Bang" were to be understood as literally as certain critics of 'commonsense' read "sunrise", we should be committed to the view that the origin of the Universe was rather loud, and was witnessed by sentient life.

Note this key passage:

Despite this, it is plain that scientists have to rely on their activity in this world -- the 'world of appearances' -- to test, refine and advance their hypotheses. No matter how sophisticated, technical or "elegant" a theory is, at some point researchers have to interface with the ordinary world. In order to test their ideas scientists must read dials, check meters, mix substances, carry out measurements, handle and calibrate instruments, conduct surveys, look down microscopes, collect samples, consult computer screens, research the relevant literature, speak to colleagues, complete reports, formulate equations, attend conferences, write articles and books, etc., etc. All or most of these must be carried out if a theory is to become anything other than speculative, tentative or hypothetical. But clearly, all of these activities and performances take place in the ordinary phenomenal world.

In addition, all of the above routines are regulated by the same conventions that govern everyday speech and reasoning -– and these in turn are mediated by familiar mundane physical skills and practices, all of which are materially-, socially- and historically-conditioned. In that case, scientists cannot risk undermining the deliverances of the phenomenal and social world, just as they cannot afford to depreciate ordinary material language and practice for fear that, by weakening the branches upon which they collectively sit, their ideas risk a catastrophic fall.

Socially-conditioned practice in this material world enables the intelligent prosecution of science; the vernacular not only facilitates the education and socialisation of scientists, it underpins everyday skills and laboratory routines (etc.). Moreover, not only do such mundane aspects of our material/social existence help secure successful inter-communication between scientists, they provide a steady source of the metaphors and models that breathe life into the vast majority of their theories.

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