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Summary Of My Main Objections To Dialectical Materialism
Abbreviations Used At This Site
Return To The Main Index Page
This used to be the Appendix to Essay Seven, but since much of this material now appears in Essays Four, Six, and Seven (in a greatly expanded and completely revised form), it has been moved here. It contains material taken from the discussion section of the article on Dialectical Materialism [DM] at Wikipedia. Posted under a pseudonym, it appears at:
This link begins with a few discussion points made by others concerning the main Encyclopedia article; my comments begin about a quarter of the way down the page.
However, much of this material has now been deleted from the Wiki page in question. but it can be accessed by looking through the 'History' tab.
The original encyclopaedia entry confuses Hegel with Fichte; as far as I am aware, Hegel doesn't use the terms "thesis", "antithesis" and "synthesis" -- at least not in any theoretically important sense. On this see Gustav Mueller 'The Hegel Legend of Thesis-Antithesis-Synthesis', in Hegel Myths and Legends, edited by Jon Stewart (Northwestern University Press, 1996), pp.301-305. [That can now be found here.]
Also, since Hegel's theory was an openly mystical doctrine, derived from Hermetic/NeoPlatonic thinkers (like Plotinus, Iamblichus, Pseudo-Dionysius and Jacob Böhme), it sits very awkwardly with Marx's scientific outlook.
Although one comrade tries to implicate Marx in Engels's confused 'philosophy', there is in fact little to suggest that he agreed with Engels that there is a 'dialectic in nature'. The idea that Marx approved Anti-Dühring is largely based on Engels's own testimony that he 'read it to Marx'. Does anyone believe this? It would have taken days! Marx was very old and in rapid decline when Engels became fixated with this mystical doctrine; he would surely have drifted off more than once. On the other hand, if Marx had have been fit and able, why on earth didn't he read it for himself?
Doubters should read Terrell Carver's books: Marx And Engels (Humanities Press, 1983); Engels (Oxford University Press, 1981); and his article 'The Engels-Marx Question', in M. Steger, and T. Carver, Engels After Marx (Manchester University Press, 1999). [On this, see here and here.]
Incidentally, all that chicken and egg stuff above just shows how crazy and mystical this theory is. No wonder few sentient beings, other than 'true believers', take it seriously.
I'll post some novel objections to dialectical (but not historical) materialism later.
Hardly. Read Reason In Revolt: Marxism And Modern Science, a very valuable and important work, once one gets past the (largely initial but lengthy) Trotskyite nonsense, at least. All this conjecture about Engels' mysticism is overstated. El_C 12:08, 9 August 2005 (UTC)
My reply to ELC:
The book you mention (Reason in Revolt, or RIRE) is in fact worse than poor. It is full of serious mistakes and misconceptions about Formal Logic (FL), issues I have taken up with one of the authors. Here is a section of my thesis that deals with some of these:
Unlike most dialecticians, Woods and Grant (the two authors of RIRE) at least reference a couple of introductory works on logic (i.e., those written many years ago by A. A. Luce, and Cohen and Nagel), but it is quite clear from what they say about logic they can't have understood much of what they read:
"Even the simplest judgement, as Hegel points out, contains a contradiction. 'Caesar is a man,' 'Fido is a dog,' 'the tree is green,' all state that the particular is the universal. Such sentences seem simple, but in fact are not. This is a closed book for formal logic, which remains determined to banish all contradictions not only from nature and society, but from thought and language itself. Propositional calculus sets out from exactly the same basic postulates as those worked out by Aristotle in the 4th century B.C., namely the law of identity, the law of (non-) contradiction, the law of excluded middle, to which is added the law of double negation. Instead of being written with normal letters, they are expressed in symbols thus:
"a) p = p
b) p = ~p
c) p V = ~p (sic)
d) ~(p ~ p) (sic)
"All this looks very nice, but makes not the slightest difference to the content of the syllogism." [Woods and Grant, RIRE, pp.97-98.]
However, translated, these symbols 'mean' the following:
a) p is equal to p
b) p is equal to not-p
c) p or equals not-p (sic)
d) not both p not-p (sic)
c) and d) are just gibberish. Clearly, these two comrades did not copy this prize example of syntactical confusion from a logic text written anywhere on this planet -- which could mean that they simply made it up. At any rate, this shows that they made no effort to understand much of what they constantly deride. [Witness the way that they have confused the Propositional Calculus with Aristotelian Syllogistic. The former was invented by the Stoics (and then largely forgotten until the middle of the 19th century); Aristotle knew nothing of it, as far as we know.]
Of course, the reference these authors make to contradictions allegedly implicit in simple predicative propositions is also based on a novel piece of grammar. 'Caesar is a man' (P1) does not say the particular is the universal, and can only be made to do so by imposing on it a grammatical theory that these two comrades failed to justify. And even if (P1) could be construed in this way, Woods and Grant failed to say why that would be a contradiction, as opposed to being a simple falsehood, or just plain unvarnished nonsense.
Other factual and interpretive mistakes these two make include the following:
(1) On page 97, they mention an unknown character (one 'George Boyle'), who they allege was one of the founding fathers of modern logic. Unless Woods and Grant know more about the 'secret history of logic' than anyone else, it looks like they have confused this fictional character with George Boole. A small mistake? You would think, but it is symptomatic of their sloppy approach to all matters logical, a characteristic they share with most dialecticians.
(2) They assert (on page 97, again) that Wittgenstein (in the Tractatus) tried to develop a formal language for the propositions of science 'based on the old laws of identity, contradiction and excluded middle' when Wittgenstein in fact went to great pains to argue that identity was not needed in a perspicuous formal language:
"It is self-evident that identity is not a relation between objects…. Russell's definition of '=' is inadequate…. Roughly speaking, to say of two things that they are identical is nonsense, and to say of one thing that it is identical with itself is to say nothing at all…. The identity sign, therefore, is not an essential constituent of conceptual notation. And now we see that in a correct conceptual notation pseudo-propositions like 'a=a', 'a=b.b=c.→ a=c', '(x).x=x', '(∃x).x=a', etc. cannot even be written down." [Wittgenstein (1972), pp.106-07; Propositions 5.5301, 5.5302, 5.5303, 5.533, 5.534. (These symbols are explained below.)]
And, contrary to what these two comrades assert about Wittgenstein basing his logic on the 'law of (non) contradiction' (etc), he declared:
"Tautology and contradiction are the limiting cases -– indeed the disintegration -– of the combination of signs." [Ibid, p.71; Proposition 4.466d.]
Indeed, far from trying to base his formal system on the principles these two comrades say he does, Wittgenstein's fundamental idea was that the whole of logic derived from something he called the 'General Form of a Proposition':
"The description of the most general propositional form is the description of the one and only general primitive sign in logic.... The general form of a truth-function is [p, ξ, N(ξ)]. This is the general form of a proposition." [Ibid, pp.95, 119; Propositions 5.472 and 6.]
[Added later: Wittgenstein (1972) refers to the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (Routledge).]
In fact, chapter 4 of RIRE contains nearly as many errors as it does paragraphs...
Moreover, Woods and Grant's interpretation of science reminds one of the approach adopted by Creationists: the only 'evidence' quoted is that which allegedly supports their view (and even then it is shoehorned into a dialectical boot it won't fit); negative evidence is just ignored.
As to Engels's mysticism, those who take their cue from that arch-mystic and hermetic thinker, Hegel, have simply labelled themselves as mystics. [I hope to publish more details on this topic at my web-site (which is still under construction).]
24-08-05. Re-edited 28-09-05.
Here are a few more problems with Woods and Grant's book:
As far as criticisms of the law of identity (LOI) are concerned, Hegel, Trotsky, Woods and Grant (and a host of other dialecticians) plainly attacked the wrong target: 'the principle of equality', not the LOI!
Here is another section from my thesis on this (the numbers in round brackets refer to notes listed at the end -- however, this now appears in an updated form here):
In his debate with Burnham, Trotsky rehearsed an argument that was aimed at exposing what he took to be serious limitations in the LOI.(1) The motivation for Trotsky’s analysis was his belief that Formal Logic (FL) deals only with static and lifeless concepts, rendering it incapable of grasping the dynamism of concrete reality. Remarkably, Trotsky nowhere attempted to substantiate these sweeping allegations; in fact there is no evidence that he consulted a single logic text written in the last 200 years (saving, of course, that written by Hegel). Clearly, he did not think that this disqualified him from passing an opinion on the subject.
Trotsky's argument went as follows:
"The Aristotelian logic of the simple syllogism starts from the proposition that 'A' is equal to 'A'…. But in reality 'A' is not equal to 'A'. This is easy to prove if we observe these two letters under a lens -– they are quite different from each other. But, one can object, the question is not the size or the form of the letters, since they are only symbols for equal quantities, for instance, a pound of sugar. The objection is beside the point; in reality a pound of sugar is never equal to a pound of sugar -– a more delicate scale always discloses a difference. Again one can object: but a pound of sugar is equal to itself. Neither is true (sic) -- all bodies change uninterruptedly in size, weight, colour etc. They are never equal to themselves...." [Trotsky, In Defense of Marxism (New Park Publications, 1971), p.63.]
There are many things wrong with this passage, but one puzzling fact is that it ignores other classical versions of the LOI, none of which Trotsky quotes.(2)
In fact, Trotsky's initial characterisation of the LOI is rather odd:
S1: A is equal to A.
But, as an accurate depiction of identity, S1 is not even close -- not least because it omits the word "identity" itself. Contrast S1 with the following far less inaccurate version of the same law:
S2: A is identical to A.
Why did Trotsky prefer S1 to S2? His use of "equal" in fact meant he was actually attacking the principle of equality, not the LOI --, which suggests that Trotsky's criticisms were misconceived from the start.
The ordinary use of words like "equal", "identical", and "same" is highly complex; it would be a mistake to think they all mean the same (no irony intended). However, because of his cavalier attitude to the vernacular, Trotsky ignored the seemingly limitless conceptual space that ordinary language creates for its users, a flexibility that allows them to make complex and intricate allusions to identity, equality, similarity, and difference with ease.
There are countless examples of the above distinctions in ordinary material language. For instance, we can say things like "the author of What is to be done? is identical to Lenin", whereas it would be odd to say "the author of What is to be done? is equal to Lenin". Indeed, we can even say that "the number of authors of What is to be done? is equal to one, but not "the number of authors of What is to be done? is identical to one".(3)
Moreover, some things can be equal and identical, or not, as the case may be. For example, the letter "t" can occur identically in first place in two different words (such as "Trotsky" and "teamster") even though neither letter nor word is equal or identical in size or shape. And, two letters, which are identically first in the alphabet (namely two "A"s) can be non-identically positioned in two unequal words (such as "car" and "Arthur"). Indeed, careful optical examination will fail to show either that these two "T"s are not identically positioned at the front of the first two quoted words, or that the two numerically different "A"s are not identically the first letter of the alphabet. This sort of identity is clearly not sensitive to empirical test.(4)
Furthermore, one and the same bag of sugar could be self-identical and equal to itself in weight even while it is unequal in weight to a second seemingly identical bag (how this is possible is explained below). Moreover, two different bags of sugar could be equal in weight (even if only momentarily), as far as the most sensitive instruments could tell. And, two separate bags could both have their weights changing; in the first it could be falling while in the second it could be rising. At some point, therefore, their two weights will be momentarily identical. In addition, in two separate piles, bag A in pile one and bag B in pile two could be the heaviest in their respective heaps. In that case, each would be equally the heaviest in their respective piles while being non-identical in weight for all that. No doubt the reader can imagine other cases that Trotsky failed to consider. In fact, his analysis blurred clear distinctions like this, ones that are easily made in ordinary, material language and which are readily understood by most working-class children.
Trotsky thus created serious problems for himself by erecting bold philosophical theses on such flimsy foundations: a mis-defined word, a few "thought experiments", and an extremely limited range of examples drawn from the vernacular.(5)
However, this change of subject (from "identity" to "equality") allowed Trotsky to make what turn out to be largely irrelevant claims about things like bags of sugar. Because this segue now involves items that can be measured (as opposed to being described or counted), the interpretation of the above "A"s as quantities of sugar heavily biases the argument; it forced Trotsky to focus on one particular aspect of equality that is not necessarily connected with identity.
Hence, Trotsky failed to notice that even though objects might vary in weight, they could still be identical in number. In fact, as is patently obvious, any object is equal and identical to itself in number -- so much so that close inspection over an extended period of time will fail to reveal a relevant difference. Trotsky overlooked this obvious counter-example to his claim that things cannot remain the same while they change: in at least this sense, most do.
As we delve deeper, counterexamples multiply alarmingly. For instance, if we consider, say, the number of volumes of Das Kapital, it is clear that there are just as many volumes today as there were 100 years ago (viz., three). Even though the number of copies has increased dramatically over the years, and each copy has no doubt changed markedly in the meantime, the number of volumes of Das Kapital has remained resolutely fixed on three. Hence, the following statements are true:
D1: The number of volumes of Das Kapital in the year 1900 is identical to the number of volumes of Das Kapital in 2005 (namely, three).
D2: The number of volumes of Das Kapital on any one day in 2005 is identical to the number of volumes of Das Kapital on the same day in 2005 (namely, three).
In D1, we have identity over time and in D2 identity at any moment in time.
Of course, it could be objected that number is an abstract property of objects, making the above points somewhat irrelevant. But, according to Lenin anything that enjoys objective existence external to the mind is material:
"[T]he sole 'property' of matter with whose recognition philosophical; materialism is bound up is the property of being an objective reality, of existing outside our mind." [Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-Criticism (Foreign Languages Press, 1972), p.311.]
And, the three volumes of Das Kapital surely exist just as objectively "outside the mind" as do pound bags of sugar. Lenin also claimed that everything in nature is both concrete and abstract, which would clearly mean that bags of sugar are as abstract as numbers are concrete:
'Nature is both concrete and abstract....' [Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 38 (Progress Publishers, 1961), p.208.]
Moreover, if Trotsky is allowed to refer to the measurable properties of bags of sugar --, such as their weight (which would clearly involve the use of numbers) --, dialecticians cannot consistently object to the above appeal to their countable properties.
In addition, consider the following perfectly normal uses of words connected with identity:
D3: The number of elements lighter than Helium is identical to the number of authors of 'What Is To Be Done?'
D4: Mount Godwin-Austen is identical to K2.
[Added later: This is from the UK Guardian newspaper(18/10/95):
"K2...was 'discovered'... and designated K2 (Karakoram Peak 2) in 1856. The peak was granted the name ["Mount Godwin-Austen"] in 1888, after its first surveyor, Col Henry Haversham Godwin-Austen (1834-1923). The previous title is now preferred as being less imperialistic. Ordinarily a mountain would revert to its local name, but K2 is so remote that it appears never to have gained one." ['Notes and Queries', in the G2 supplement.]]
D5: The point of all these counterexamples is identical in each case: to refute Trotsky's criticisms of the LOI.
Sentences like these can be multiplied indefinitely. As a highly competent user of language, Trotsky cannot have been unaware of this; so why did he feign ignorance? Was his analysis biased by its extremely narrow focus on the philosophical use of words for identity -- one derived from that notorious Idealist, Hegel --, which fails to match their employment in ordinary material language?
Similar distinctions are also found in mathematics; for instance, the equation 2x + 1 = 7 is true if and only if x = 3, but, no one supposes that x is identical to 3 otherwise it could never equal any other number. Compare this with the use of the "º" sign in, say, 2sinxcosx º sin2x, which expresses identity; this rule yields the true for all defined values of x, since here we have two algebraic rules that yield the same result for all substitution instances. Thus, even if mathematical 'objects' were abstract, there would still be a clear difference between 'abstract identity' and 'abstract equality'.
Moreover, and worse, some things can change even while they stay the same; for example, it is easy to transform 1/√n into √n/n: 1/√n x √n/√n = √n/n. But, 1/√n does not even look like √n/n, even though the two are identical: 1/√n º √n/n. So, here we have change with no change! There are countless examples of this in mathematics, too.
Why, therefore, did Trotsky concentrate on equality when he was trying to discuss identity? The fact that he ignored all of the classical formulations of the LOI (such as Leibniz’s) only compounds the puzzle.(6)
Perhaps it was an oversight? But this glaring omission -- coupled with his irrelevant digression over bags of sugar and eye-glasses, and his failure to consider the wider use of identity words in the material language of everyday life -- tends to suggest that Trotsky did not really understand the very thing he was criticizing: identity.
It therefore looks like Trotsky tried to undermine the LOI by appealing to a principle that was not identical with it (irony intended)....
(1) In fact, the defects of the LOI lie elsewhere; these are outlined in Wittgenstein (1972), quoted in an earlier post above. See also, M. Marion Wittgenstein, Finitism, And The Foundations Of Mathematics (Oxford University Press, 1998), pp.44-72. On identity itself, see C Williams, What Is Identity? (Oxford University Press, 1989), H Noonan, Objects And Identity (Martinus Nijhoff, 1980), ‘Relative Identity’, in R Hale and C Wright (eds.), A Companion To The Philosophy Of Language (Blackwell, 1997), pp.634-52.
(2) On this see Note (5) below.
(3) Indeed, anyone who thinks that "identity" is identical with "equality" has already used the LOI to arrive at that conclusion -- whereas anyone convinced of their difference must concede that Trotsky and Hegel attacked the wrong target!
(4) Who, for instance, would think of devising an experiment to check whether two distinct "A"s were identically the first letter of the alphabet, or even that "T" was the same letter as "t"?
(5) Ordinary language is seemingly limitless in its capacity to express complex and subtle differences in meaning, way beyond that enabled by the lifeless, non-material jargon found in Hegel. This is not surprising since ordinary language was formed by working people over tens of thousands of years as a result of their material interaction with the world and with one another; it is, therefore, a complex social resource that connects humanity with changing reality, and defines for us what that is.
In contrast, Hegel's jargon-ridden terminology expresses an alienated ruling-class form-of-thought (for reasons that will be explored in future posts), which was constructed more out of concern for its relation with the world of ideas than for its connection with material thought. No surprise then that it cannot cope with living, material reality. Of course, dialecticians deny this, but their view can only be sustained by ignoring the clear distinctions material language contains.
Unfortunately, the ideas of the ruling-class rule not just because of their political and economic power, but also because the metaphysical jargon invented by their "prize-fighters" that has dominated philosophy for over two thousand years -- and which reflects their view of reality -- has been appropriated by Marxists. Opaque terminology like this delineates the parameters and boundaries of 'acceptable' thought – even, alas, among radicals, so much so that many are reluctant to accept a theory as genuinely 'philosophical' unless it is hopelessly obscure (this is particularly true of academic Marxists). This jargon-dominated theory cannot be taken over by Marxists and reformed one clause at a time; like the 'tiger' that gave it birth, it must be trapped, killed and dismembered. However, by trying to change this system-of-thought from the inside, as it were, radical theorists have merely allowed their thought to be transformed into a bowdlerised version of ruling-class consciousness. [This is the philosophical equivalent of reformism.] Small wonder then that Marxism is to success as religion is to peace on earth.
In modern symbols, Leibniz's Law is:
 (∀x)(∀y)((x = y) º (Fx ® Fy)).
 is otherwise known as the Indiscernibility of Identicals. Translated, it roughly reads: "Any two objects are identical if and only if they share the same properties" -– or, "…whatever is true of one is true of the other." This particular 'Law' won't be defended here for reasons outlined in Note 1. Its translation into ordinary language isn't happy on any reading. That alone shows it isn't equivalent to the ordinary use of "equal to", "the very same as", "identical with", or even "numerically identical with".
Nevertheless, it is important to note that the use of the "=" sign in  has been strengthened by the presence of the bi-conditional "º"; hence, it isn't identical to Trotsky's use of the former sign, either (no irony intended).
Contrast  with the following version of the same 'Law':
 (∀x)(∀y)((∀F)(Fx º Fy) ® (x = y)).
 is otherwise known as the Identity of Indiscernibles.
Loosely translated  reads: "Any two objects that share every property in common are identical." However, this version requires quantification across properties, which is controversial.
Compare the two versions of Identity outlined above with the following:
 j(y) º [(∃x)((x = y) & j(x))].
 appears in Griffin (1977), p.1, which also contains a strengthened version of Leibniz's Law:
 (∀x)(∀y)[(x = y) º (∀j)(j(x) º j(y))].
 roughly reads: "Any two objects are identical if and only if for any property, one has it if and only if the other also has it." Griffin gives several other versions of  and  above, (ibid., p.2).
Incidentally,  roughly says "Anything true of some object is equivalently true of any object identical to it." [In fact, I have used this version in the present Essay to show that identity is no enemy of change. Because this rule doesn't require quantification across properties, it is, in my view, preferable to both  and .]
["∀" is the universal quantifier, equivalent to "All", "Any" or "Every"; "∃" is the existential quantifier, equivalent to "Some" or "At least one"; "º" is the sign for logical equivalence, i.e., "If and only if"; "j" and "F" are predicate variable letters; "®" is the implication arrow, equivalent to "if...then"; "x" and "y" are "bound" quantifier variables.]
A couple of final points:
Among the contrary evidence not considered by Woods and Grant is the following (also taken from my thesis):
For example, it is now thought that certain sub-atomic particles are equal to themselves for unimaginably long periods of time. Protons, for instance, have an estimated life span in excess of 10 to the power of 32 years. During that time they do not change (as far as we know), and as such they are surely equal to themselves. Of course, it could be objected that particles like this (i.e., Hadrons) are composed of even more fundamental particles, which do enjoy a contradictory life of their own 'inside' each 'host particle'; their machinations would therefore mean that apparently changeless protons are in fact changing internally all the time. But, this response simply pushes the problem further back, for these other, more fundamental particles (i.e., Quarks), are themselves changeless like Leptons, as far as is known. Moreover, since protons are Baryons -- i.e., they are made up of three Quarks --, it is not easy to interpret their inner lives as in any way "contradictory" (with three terms?). Even more difficult to account for dialectically are electrons and photons, since they have no known internal structure. Unless acted upon externally, their 'lifespan' is, so we are told, infinite.
If so, it seems that the picture of reality painted by dialecticians is more a Jackson Pollock than it is a Van Eyck.
On protons see:
More details at:
On electrons, see:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electron (accessed 17/08/2005).
On photons, see:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Photon (accessed 17/08/2005).
Later in the same book Trotsky argued that:
"Every worker knows that it is impossible to make two completely equal objects. In the elaboration of a bearing-brass into cone bearings, a certain deviation is allowed for the cones which should not, however, go beyond certain limits…. By observing the norms of tolerance, the cones are considered as being equal. ('A' is equal to 'A').... Every individual is a dialectician to some extent or other, in most cases, unconsciously." [Trotsky, ibid, pp.65, 106.]
In this passage, Trotsky added to what he had earlier claimed about the LOI, for it looks like he believed that not only is nothing self-identical, no two objects can be made which are identical. However, from the wording it also appears that he either thought these two distinct possibilities were the same, or he did not understand the difference between them (no irony intended). But, what has whatever workers are capable of making got to do with the LOI? Not only is this not a counter-example to the LOI (which concerns an object's alleged self-identity), it is not even a challenge of Trotsky's own confused mis-definition of it.
However, it is very easy to make two identical objects; physicists tell us that every photon, for example, is identical to every other photon. This how Steven French puts things:
"It should be emphasised, first of all, that quantal particles are indistinguishable in a much stronger sense than classical particles. It is not just that two or more electrons, say, possess all intrinsic properties in common but that -- on the standard understanding -- no measurement whatsoever could in principle determine which one is which."  French, S. (2006), 'Identity And Individuality In Quantum Theory', in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2000 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.).
Of course, French offers his own solution to this difficulty, but it isn't one that challenges the identity of quantal particles, just their lack of individuality (whatever that means).
And Paul Dirac put the same point this way:
"If a system in atomic physics contains a number of particles of the same kind, e.g., a number of electrons, the particles are absolutely indistinguishable. No observable change is made when two of them are interchanged…." [P. Dirac, The Principles Of Quantum Mechanics (Oxford University Press, 4th ed., 1967), p.207.]
In that case, each time a worker turns on a light, he or she makes countless trillion identical objects -- which, it seems, must mean that such workers are "unconscious" anti-dialecticians.
Naturally, contentious claims like these can only be neutralised by an a priori stipulation to the effect that every photon in existence (past, present and future) must be non-identical -- despite what scientists tell us, and in abeyance of the almost infinite amount of data that would be needed to support such an ambitious claim. At this point, perhaps, even hardnosed dialecticians might just be able to see in this a blatant attempt to impose DM on reality.
A recent discussion of these issues can be found in the following: Brading, K., and Castellani, E. (eds.), Symmetries in Physics. Philosophical Reflections (Cambridge University Press, 2003), and Castellani, E. (ed.), Interpreting Bodies. Classical And Quantum Objects In Modern Physics (Princeton University Press, 1998).
See also the Wikipedia entry at:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Identical_particles (accessed 17/08/2005).
It could objected that Trotsky would surely have been unaware of these recent developments in physics, but as the references given show, such facts were largely true of classical particles; quantum particles merely present a more extreme form of strict identity. And Lenin it was who reminded us that science is ever revisable; hence no dialectician (who agrees with Lenin) could consistently rule out the possibility of scientists discovering identical particles -- as indeed they have.
Finally, it is worth noting that the assumed fact that objects in the world undergo constant change cannot in general be used to defuse any of the above points since no matter how fast anything changes whatever it is identical to changes equally quickly. With that observation, much of classical Dialectical Materialism collapses, since it shows that identity is no enemy of change.
[Incidentally, none of the above implies I reject Historical Materialism; the exact opposite is in fact the case.]
25/08/2005. Re-edited 28-09-2005
Reply from ELC:
Hi, and thank you for the substantive notes, I seem to have missed all of them. I'll have to study all in sequence more closely, but from a cursory reading: I am well aware that RIR suffers from a great many problems, most I would account to Trotskyism and mysticism (in that order). It is indeed riddled with errors, I probably should have emphasized on this more strongly, and I am pleased you took the time to expose some, though I maintain strongly, not without committing crucial errors yourself. That said (on the error front of RIR), I challenge the work contains important advancements, dialectically vindicating rather than metaphysically condemning the DoN. Needless to say, I will have to study everything closely and in sequence.
But I do wish to leave you with some constructive criticism, and a prelude to my approach. From my vantage point, I detect an idealist and metaphysical tendency in the choices as well as in the analyses you extend with respect to several key points you raise. I would like to touch on and address one passage. But before I do, I should mention that I highly doubt Lenin would say (or is saying in those passages) that what strike me are clearly abstractions amount to being material based on a semantic technicality so to speak, and I think there is a fundamental misunderstanding on your part as to what he meant, and of course, fragmentary citations by him (and lengthy ones of Trotsky) do not help matters.
In short, I am not operating with those assumptions in mind, of assigning what I view as pseudo-material traits onto what is not, in fact, (epistemologically) material. The key, I believe, is to remain focused on processes with the view of them actually taking place in material reality, in practice as opposed to in theory. So with that preamble out of the way, allow me, then, to address one passage in particular. You write above on T and A that:
"Moreover, some things can be equal and identical, or not, as the case may be. For example, the letter "t" can occur identically in first place in two different words (such as "Trotsky" and "teamster") even though neither letter nor word is equal or identical in size or shape. And, two letters, which are identically first in the alphabet (namely two "A"s) can be non-identically positioned in two unequal words (such as "car" and "Arthur"). Indeed, careful optical examination will fail to show either that these two "T"s are not identically positioned at the front of the first two quoted words, or that the two numerically different "A"s are not identically the first letter of the alphabet."
Beginning with my second underlined emphasis, I think it is a serious mistake to refer to [not?] being the first, etc. number in the alphabet as a material process, except in so far as it exists in relation to the mind (thinking about T and A in any combination, physically, in the brain at a given time), writing, typing, as well as reading , etc. it. So my first thought, and I do apologize for excerpting yours somewhat out of its original context, is: when you say "some things," I think: what sort of things? Material things - things that could be expressed materially? The point, then, is that letters are by definition not material, they remain for our purposes abstract human constructs until humans put them into practice, in the printing press printing the word printing press or things, or as we, innocently yet joyfully spell out or utter the word c-a-t.
Secondly, following my first underlined emphasis and to continue my thought above, when we attempt to apply careful optical examination to material things, the question in this sense (as per our T & A being displayed, i.e. materially) becomes: identical material history in every respect where, when? On your computer screen, on mine, someone else's? With all the photons and their identical quantity, combination, trajectory, etc., as absorbed by our eyes, or the eyes of both of our highly literate cats? Who would propose devising such an experiment (to follow your footnote), indeed, but that's rather besides the point. In the abstract, for whatever purposes, we can say identically positioned, but such identical positioning (of the T & As on our non-identical computer screens, I presume :p) is based on whatever degree of precision we assign or are able to assign it. And, of course, as small as those scales of time, length, mass, temperature, electric charge, etc., or as large, cosmologically (viz. the known universe), as they are perceived now, does not mean it is correct to say, as many physicists and cosmologists seem so incline to, that these represent an eternal, divine and final limit.
All planetary systems, to use an example, so long as such a gravitationally-bound systems exist (as such), share universal traits, but it is fair to presume that there are no two alike (having an identical material history). Planetary systems that, in some important ways, are classified the same as our own solar system, are of course not identical to it; they, like all planetary systems, are absolutely unique: in terms of the particles that comprise them throughout their material history, the space-time they occupy in the universe, etc.
So, following this line of reasoning, how do you propose one could express identical letters materially? Even the minimum of six x2 elementary particles will not do; even our beloved non-exclusionary photons can't perform this miracle for us, because, concretely, we always end up dealing with related systems in relation to other systems, within the space and timeline of the universe.
There is a reason, I think, why Marx never protested against the DoN content in Anti-Dühring, and this in part underscores my position that the later DoN, while of course containing errors, is far from a work of mysticisms, but by contrast, rather seminal (that said, I could see why Marx would choose not to place emphasis on it in his writings). As mentioned, RIR is riddled with errors which many more words can be expanded on, but I nonetheless maintain that it is able to make important advancements, draw correct generalizations on key scientific discoveries and processes, and reiterate many concepts mentioned by Engels ~ 100 years earlier in a highly insightful way.
I hope that even at such an early stage of our polemic (or my response, at least), this can be understood and appreciated in the context of my comment, which I'll stress again, spares and hides no criticism of the authors, and their unfortunate reliance on the confused and mystical line of Trotsky. More on that later. Thank you for taking the time, and my apologies again for having overlooked your responses. Yours sincerely, El_C 03:39, 29 September 2005 (UTC)
[Spelling errors have been corrected.]
ELC, thank you for those thoughts. You will of course concede that in the limited space here there is no way I can discuss in the required detail every point I raised. In my thesis, however, I do go to great lengths to substantiate all I allege. [That thesis is at present well over 600,000 words long!] I hope to publish snippets at my site in the next few months.
As to my supposed idealist leanings, I would remind you that I am basing all I say on the material language of ordinary life (which makes me a consistent materialist). However, with regard to this comment:
"Beginning with my second underlined emphasis, I think it is a serious mistake to refer to [not?] being the first, etc. number in the alphabet as a material process, except in so far as it exists in relation to the mind (thinking about T and A in any combination, physically, in the brain at a given time), writing, typing, as well as reading , etc."
I addressed this point in my post; I am alleging that in the real world (and in the abstract) there is a difference between equality and identity. So, whether or not you are right that such things are 'mental' events (and are abstract - both of which I would question, anyway, but there is no space here to explain why), there is a clear difference between equality and identity, which is all I needed to show. Trotsky and Hegel confused these two notions; hence what they said was misguided from the start.
"The point, then, is that letters are by definition not material, they remain for our purposes abstract human constructs until humans put them into practice, in the printing press printing the word printing press or things, or as we, innocently yet joyfully spell out or utter the word c-a-t."
But the letters you typed out certainly are material, otherwise you would not be able to see them. However, I suspect you mean that their designation (or meaning) is not material. That I would question, but my point does not depend on this being so (as I noted above). Howsoever you construe these words, abstract identity and abstract equality are not the same. If you think they are identical (i.e., if you think abstract or material identity is identical with abstract or material equality) you must have used the LOI to arrive at that point. On the other hand, if you think they are not the same, then you must agree with me that Hegel and Trotsky criticised the wrong target.
Your next paragraph I think misses the point, too. In a very real material sense, with respect to two non-identical copies of the same letters (on a computer screen, or in a book) different words can occupy identical places, i.e., first second or third.... If ordinal numbers are to be discounted on the grounds that they are 'abstract' (which I would question), then the numbers on weighing scales must be too. In that case, Trotsky's point collapses about as quickly as you think mine does.
However, the sophisticated nature of material language allows for this sort of materialist description, something Hegel, Lenin and Trotsky failed to spot (mainly because they were relying on ideas invented by aristocratic, anti-materialist thinkers, like Plato - wherein the material language of ordinary life is denigrated, and the experience of ordinary working people is ignored as of no consequence).
I wasn't too sure, though, what point you were trying to make about planetary systems; my point about identical particles, however, is that no one who thinks that human knowledge is complete (as I do not, and it is clear you do not) can safely assert that scientists will never discover identical particles. Apparently, they have. One can only argue against this view by imposing dialectics on nature. Now if you want to do that, fine. But that either turns your theory into an a priori and idealist system, or it reduces it to a form of conventionalism.
"So, following this line of reasoning, how do you propose one could express identical letters materially?"
Well, I do not propose anything. All I say is that the insecure grasp dialecticians have of the relevant words for identity and equality as they are found in ordinary material language (and as revealed by what they say about them), or in technical language, or in any language, suggests that they (the said dialecticians) are radically confused on this topic. My post was solely aimed at that target. In my thesis I develop this line of thought in order to undermine every aspect of dialectics, and on roughly similar lines. Hence, I aim to show that dialectics is an empty 'science', that it is full of meaningless phrases, riddled with gross confusions or is hopelessly unclear. My post was targeted merely at sowing doubt, not at propounding any new ideas (that will be done elsewhere). Consequently, its aim was Socratic (in a way); in order to make progress one has to know the extent of one's own ignorance. So, I needed to expose the extent of dialectician's ignorance of formal logic and the use of ordinary language. In that case, and in that way, I aim to destroy dialectics so that a genuine Marxist science (i.e., one based on a de-Hegelianised historical materialism) can flourish. In that sense, I do not propose anything philosophical here (or anywhere else, for that matter, since I contend that all of philosophy is Idealist - in this I agree with Hegel, who said the same (irony intended) - and should be debunked accordingly). I seek to do this on lines suggested by Kant, but perfected by Wittgenstein (on whose method I model my own approach).
What I do suggest, however, is that we examine what our own use of ordinary material language tells us about these terms (and others, like "contradiction"), and on that basis determine a sound materialist platform for their use in science and elsewhere. Any other approach I aim to show (and can show) descends into the sort of confusion witnessed in Trotsky's analysis (and in Hegel's, too).
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