Mr. Dumain,

Even though I rarely reply to this list, I subscribe to it mostly because of
your essays.  I was wondering if you could collect all of your "polemics" in
re Rosa and post them on your website?


On 3/5/06, Ralph Dumain <[EMAIL PROTECTED]> wrote:
> 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.
> Formal Logic
> 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
> of motion.
> 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
> this later.
> 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:
> >
> >[1] 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
> >made.
> >
> >"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 Nat�rphilosophy, 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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