For my previous installments of this review, see my prior posts on
[EMAIL PROTECTED] It is a shame that Rosa came on so
belligerently and quickly unsubscribed, dismissing the possibility of
productive feedback at the outset. This speaks to not only the ignorance
and incompetence rife among marxists, but also the deleterious influence of
provincialism and sectarianism in marxist milieux and the world at
large. Rosa marks one stage in the rectification of the fragmentation of
knowledge, but she would not stay around to take the process up a
notch. Oh dear.
This project is inherently frustrating on so many levels, as Homer Simpson
would say. On the one hand Rosa shows up the shameful ignorance of a
century of Marxism-Leninism, marshaling in the process a prodigious array
of sources on logic and mathematics, and also on the sciences, information
that is urgently needed by her audience in view of the ignorance she
contests. On the other, that so much energy should be invested to prove so
little is tragic.
Just about all that Marxists have written on the limitations of formal
logic and dialectical logic as its corrective is total rubbish. Rosa
occasionally acknowledges partial exceptions, but she has been so
traumatized by the mountains of Trotskyist drivel she was force-fed, as
well as its Stalinist counterpart, she rarely gets beyond that to see what
else might be done or has been done with the dialectical tradition. In
this chapter she shows up the mountains of nonsense written by marxists,
including their near total ignorance of what has been accomplished in
modern logic since Frege. Yes there is so much more to say. I'll touch on
these issues as I proceed.
One should note that while occasionally Rosa recognizes some
differentiation, she could be more effective in exposing the temptations,
contradictions, and occasional good sense of her opponents. Both
Stalinists and Trotskyists are inheritors of the same flawed
tradition. One can only argue which is worse in defined contexts. She
mostly picks on her fellow Trots, with additional cites from Stalinists,
and the predecessors of both. But as we know, there are arguments within
this tradition as well, such as the Soviet arguments over the 'two logics'
in the '50s. Plus there is the curious partisan schizophrenia whereby one
argues intelligently with other specialists while failing to abjure the bad
popularizations that abound. Certainly, advocates of diamat have also
criticized flawed thinking among their ranks. Erwin Marquit, in several
journal articles as well as in his contribution to DIALECTICAL
CONTRADICTION, argues against the flawed Hegelian misreading of the paradox
Rosa points out at the outset that logic has historically been conflated
with metaphysics, whereas its proper province is the study of valid
inference. This is an essential point, and Marxists get tripped up on it.
Yet Rosa could make an even more damning case, but one which would apply to
a range of ideological phenomena in the 20th century. The suppression of
the nature of abstraction, which can already be found in Engels' conflation
of the logical and the empirical (noted by Van Heijenoort), is
characteristic of all the horrendous indoctrination perpetrated by
Marxism-Leninism. But the same phenomenon can be found across the board,
from Alfred Korzybski's General Semantics to Alan Watts' New Age
disquisitions. There needs to be a better accounting for the whole
shebang, rather than simply to fall back on formal logic and ordinary
language. Clearly something is amiss.
There must be some reason for the persistence of such conspicuous erroneous
thought patterns, and there must be some gap, some non-mystical need, that
dialectical thought attempts to supply. There must be something rather
difficult about the transposition of real world thinking into formal
propositional form that analytical philosophers have failed to capture.
Inversely, as any acquaintance with mathematicians and logicians will show
(not to mention philosophers trained in logic), the integration of
formal-logical apparatus and real world thinking of aforementioned
individuals is largely a failure, and furthermore shows up the
self-enclosed, alienated minds produced by specialization and the dismal
socialization that prevails in society.
Had Rosa not so precipitously dismissed 'academic Marxism', while copiously
citing from other academics with expertise in mathematics, logic, and
analytical philosophy, she would be better positioned to exploit their
contributions as well as pinpoint their weaknesses. The whole history of
critical theory is an excellent case in point, perhaps the best case. The
Frankfurt School, their precursors, associates, and successors, all fell
down on logic and mathematics. Nonetheless, they provided the tools to
decipher the ideological phenomena of their time.
Now, let's continue with Rosa's exposition of logic and linguistic philosophy.
Alas, absurd sentences like this are to metaphysicians what carrots are to
donkeys; based on linguistic monstrosities like C4, some hastily conclude
that language -- or 'thought' (or 'reality', or 'everything') -- must be
defective, or must be contradictory. With reasoning like that you might as
well argue that if a metre rule is made incorrectly the same must be true
of all it measured!
From linguistic sins of our philosophical ancestors like this most of
Metaphysics has descended without modification by unnatural selection; DM
is unfortunately not the only progeny of mutant syntax like this.15
Again, the attribution of metaphysical errors to linguistic flaws (based on
Indo-European grammar). While there is no doubt that all ideological and
metaphysical errors take on the form of flawed logical reasoning, it is
nonetheless not entirely convincing to convert this into a causal
explanation. She also adduces political explanations, viz. the nature of
ruling class ideology. Presumably the two combine. Yet her version of
their combination remains rather crude, incomplete at the very least.
Most fascinating to me is the combination of the validation of both formal
logic and ordinary language.
In Second Order Logic, expressions for concepts become variables ranged
over by Third Order quantifiers, and so on.17
Even so, such systems only indirectly relate to the ordinary use of words
for change in the vernacular. Indeed, despite what certain Philosophers
(and DM-theorists) claim, ordinary language is perfectly capable of
expressing change; this is partly because the word "change" is a
vernacular term itself, and partly because ordinary language was invented
by those who daily interface with material reality in collective labour
(etc.); i.e., workers. In fact, as will be demonstrated in Essay Six,
ordinary language is capable of expressing change far better than the
obscure language found in Hegel, and in DM. The vernacular contains
literally thousands of different words that are capable of depicting
change in almost limitless detail.
Now this is very odd. Ordinary people are just as metaphysical and
superstitious as the educated, though there is evidence to indicate that
special types of superstitious thinking may be endemic to certain
classes. But clearly ordinary language, its richness notwithstanding, is
inadequate as is, due to imprecision as well as its ideological content,
including inappropriate metaphorical content. At the very least, why else
would we need the apparatus of formal logic, mathematics, notational
systems, technical terminology, ideology critique?
Furthermore, the dichotomy of formal logic and ordinary language does not
combine into an integrated picture. It takes more than gluing the early
and late Wittgenstein together to make a complete whole. Why is it only
that (idealist) philosophers are wrong when they try to interject a third
factor into this dynamic, with their bad metaphysics and obscure
terminology? (Note my previous post on the footnotes to chapter 2, part 2,
on abstraction, wherein Rosa defends ordinary language.) There must be
other reasons, for example, why dialectical thinking, bad as it appears to
be, is such a temptation to otherwise intelligent minds. I'll come back to
Rosa switches to other claims about dialectics, e.g. viz. dialectical biology.
Admittedly, certain 'dialectical' biologists have claimed that DL has an
important role to play in the study of living systems -- for instance, the
authors of DB -- along with several notable members of the Communist Party
from several generations ago (e.g., Haldane, Levy and Bernal).
Unquestionably, organic wholes and interconnectedness clearly make sense
both in the life sciences and in the analysis of social development.
However, this admission does not mean we have to accept the entire
DM-enchilada, and opt for universal Holism. [On this, see Essay Eleven.]
Anyway, as is demonstrated throughout this site, the concepts found in DL
and DM are far too vague or incoherent for them to play a useful role in
any of the sciences. In fact, they do not even make the list.
These are very good points. Inter alia, we see a reason for the appeal of
dialectical thought--in this instance an objective dialectic or dialectic
of nature, independently of logic, perhaps? As Rosa is also known to
reject emergent materialism, apparently this will not satisfy her
either. But here's what miffs her about dialectical biology.
[DB = The Dialectical Biologist.]
Nevertheless, DB advances certain claims (which TAR quotes approvingly;
e.g., p.4) that require brief comment:
 DB's authors maintain that something they call the "Cartesian mode"
[i.e., Cartesian Reductionism, CAR] has dominated post-renaissance
science. Unfortunately, they failed to substantiate this claim and simply
left it as a bald assertion:
"The dominant mode of analysis of the physical and biological world and by
extension the social world...has been Cartesian reductionism. This
Cartesian mode is characterised by four ontological commitments...:
"1. There is a natural set of units or parts of which any whole system is
"2. These units are homogeneous within themselves, at least in so far as
they affect the whole of which they are the parts.
"3. The parts are ontologically prior to the whole; that is, the parts
exist in isolation and come together to make wholes. The parts have
intrinsic properties, which they possess in isolation and which they lend
to the whole. In the simplest case the whole is nothing but the sum of the
parts; more complex cases allow for interactions of the parts to produce
added properties of the whole.
"4. Causes are separate from effects, causes being the properties of
subjects. and effects the properties of objects. While causes may respond
to information coming from the effects.... there is no ambiguity about
which is causing subject and which is caused object...." [Levins and
Lewontin (1985), p.269.]
However, these allegations are themselves couched in rather broad, general
and somewhat vague terms. While it is undeniable that some philosophers
and scientists have adopted parts of the world-view that DB's authors
attribute to CAR, many have rejected it. Indeed, since most of the
theorists who allegedly adopted this mode of thought (if it is one) were
devout Christians, they could hardly posit 'parts separate from wholes'
given what they found in the book of Genesis. [On this, see below.] It is
worth noting that the authors of DB cite no sources for their views
(primary or secondary) -- and no wonder; they would have disconfirmed the
picture they painted.
Here Rosa is correct. It's a shame that Lewontin and Levins and others
would mar their arguments with such sloppy reasoning, since there are much
tighter cases against 'reductionism' that could be sustained.
DB's authors also ignore the fact that many scientists and philosophers
(these two roles were not really distinguished until the middle of the
19th century) up until about 100 years ago often depicted the unity of
the world in theological terms. . . . . In fact, it is arguable that DM
represents a regressive return to such an enchanted view of nature. . . . ..
Finally, DB omits any mention of the strong Organicist and Holistic
tradition in modern science (represented most notably in the works of
people like Goethe, Schelling and Oken). Emerging out of the
aforementioned Hermetic and NeoPlatonist philosophies of the Renaissance,
this strand of thought underpinned Natürphilosophy, just as it inspired
Vitalist and Romantic views of nature. As is clear, this view of the world
dominated much of the thought of the Romantic Movement from whom Hegel
derived many of his own ideas. This alone casts doubt on DB's simplistic
picture of the development of science since Descartes.
A simplistic picture hardly unique to Marxists. Certainly New Age thought
and various idealist fads are predicated on similar grounds.
However, it is also clear that DB's authors have themselves adopted a
revisionist view of Engels's work in this regard; they even go so far as
to say that "much of what he wrote about [the physical world] seems
quaint" [DB, p.279], and this appears to include Engels's views on change
through contradiction. True, DB's authors interpret contradictions as
opposing forces [DB, p.280], but in Essay Eight it will become clear how
unwise a move this is. Nonetheless, in their characterization of CAR, DB's
authors pointedly failed to argue that the absence of an appeal to
"contradictions" (to account for change) was one of its weaknesses.
Perhaps this was an oversight, but it does ruin the neat picture Rees paints.
I imagine so.
Finally, it is worth noting that, Graham Priest's work aside, the best
defence of the 'dialectical view' of contradictions I have encountered in
the literature (i.e., that found in Lawler (1982)) will be discussed in
detail in Essay Eight.
Keep Priest and Lawler in mind for later installments.
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