Chaos and dialectics

Huseyin Ozel OZEL at
Fri Nov 18 18:34:02 MST 1994

Hello All,

I am a graduate student at the Dept. of Economics, University of
Utah, and trying to understand the relations, if any, between
dialectics and the recent developments in natural sciences, for my
dissertation. Therefore, the discussion on chaos is extremely helpful
to me and I cannot resist the temptation to make some comments,
however naive and irrelevant, about this issue.

In a message dated nov. 15 Juan Inigo writes

> In the first place, it depends on what one calls "dialectics."
> I call dialectics the process of ideally appropriating the
> potentiality of a real concrete form by reproducing the development
> of its necessity through thought. Thus faced, a so-called chaotic
> process shows to be the realization of a necessity that exists
> as a possible potency, when the course of this realization has
> possibility itself as its specific form of realizing itself.
> This is the most developed general form of determination, that
> is, of self-affirming through self-negation, and certainly a widely
> extended concrete form of it that we must necessarily face with our
> conscious action.

I agree with this position, but I also think it needs some
clarification. I believe this passage is not careful about a very
important distinction, namely the distinction between ontology and
epistemology. That is, what we know about the world cannot be
identified with the world itself. Therefore, we should avoid what
Bhaskar calls the "epistemic fallacy" which assumes that statements
about ontology (about being) can always be reduced into statements
about epistemology (about our knowledge of being), as in the
empiricist tradition.  On the other hand, however, we should
equally avoid the "ontic fallacy", the compulsive determination of
our knowledge of being by being itself, as in the 'dialectical
materialist' "reflectionist" theory of knowledge. [on these
fallacies, see Bhaskar's _A Realist Theory of Science_, 1975, and
his latest book _Plato Etc._, Verso, 1994. (especially pp. 48- 9]

Therefore, we should distinguish between the dialectics as a real
process and the dialectics as a method, for they are not reducible
to each other. In this regard, chaos theory seems to suggest that
first, ontologically, dialectics may characterize a real process in
nature, and second, epistemologically, chaos and complexity requires
a rejection of strict determinism, or more appropriately what Bhaskar
(again) calls "regularity determinism" which assumes "constant
conjunctions" between discrete events, by allowing both necessity and
contingency/accidents (bifurcation etc.), concepts not so distant
from the idea of dialectics. Now it seems to me that this
conception of both nature and natural science is consistent with
Bhaskar's "depth" realism which argues for the "ontological depth"
or "stratification", namely the experiences, events, and real
mechanisms underlying these events and experiences are not generally
reducible to each other. [on this position and the implications of
chaos theory for social sciences, see Reed and Harvey, "The New
science and the Old: Complexity and Realism in the Social
Sciences" Journal for the Theory of Social Behavior, 22:4, 1992]

But of course chaos/complexity does not necessarily imply dialectics,
even as a method.

Any comments?

Huseyin Ozel
ozel at


More information about the Marxism mailing list