Dialectic and self-transparency

Howie Chodos howie at magi.com
Wed Feb 22 09:51:03 MST 1995

Hans Despain asked whether:

>Maybe Chodos or Dumain could further explain Wood's notion of self-
>transparency.  Is this the same as level or degree of self-
>consciousness.  If so it actual does seem valid to me that this may
>be a worthy distinction, especially if their notion of alienation can
>be brought into the picture.
>In any event, could someone please try to further expand Wood's use
>of the notion of self-transparency.

As I understand Wood's argument, the concept goes a bit beyond "degree of
self-consciousness" in that it touches on our ability to understand the
consequences of our (self-)conscious intervention in social life. It
connects with self-consciousness in that any such ability to successfully
transform existing social relations obviously requires an understanding of
where we're starting from.

In fact, I sense a link with Bhaskar's notion of moving from unwanted to
wanted determinations as key to being able to increase freedom. Wood also
connects this line of argument to modern rejections of our ability to
transform social relations such as that developed by Popper on the grounds
that we cannot predict the future, and therefore shouldn't mess too much
with the present. I think that this too ties in with Bhaskar's contention
that history/society are fundamentally open systems, as opposed to the
"closed" nature of the physical and mechanical worlds. If Bhaskar is right,
and I think that he is, we need a way to argue for the legitimacy of radical
change despite being unable to offer guarantees that the outcome of our
actions will always be what we intend.

Wood's argument helps here and I can do no better than to cite another brief
"Both Hegel and Popper exaggerate the conclusion to which this line of
argument entitles them. Popper admits that his argument, forbids us only
those predictions about the future that depend on the future growth of our
knowledge. Given that concession, Popper's argument cannot rule out the
possibility of radical social action, combined with rational predictions of
its success, based on what we already know. Since Popper gives us no ground
for thinking that the growth of our knowledge will decisively determine the
course of social change, his attempt at a quick, decisive refutation of
every form of "historicism" falls far short of its aim."

Dumain is right that Wood is cavalier in his dismissal of dialectics, but
this shouldn't blind us to the merits of other aspects of his argument.
Given the lack of consensus about the nature of dialectics, and its role in
informing revolutionary theory, it seems to me that adherence to one version
or another of dialectical philosophy (or even a rejection of dialectics
altogether) should not be erected into a barrier that prevents constructive
dialogue, especially on a list that proclaims allegiance to no orthodoxy.

Howie Chodos

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