Bhaskar and dialectics

Ralph Dumain rdumain at
Thu Feb 23 23:31:48 MST 1995

I indeed owe Jukka Laari and the rest of you a clearer explanation
of what I intended to say abut the relation of subjective and
objective dialectics.  Years ago I thought about this a lot, but
I'm rusty on this subject now and I have very little time.  So
let's see what I can do in a few minutes.

I did not mean to sever the subjective from the objective, or
advocate some kind of subjectivism, though obviously I can be
easily misconstrued by what I wrote.  Nor did I mean to assume
dogmatically, as non-Marxists and some Marxists, do, that
contradiction can only exist in the mind.

The point is, how do we determine when something in the real world
is contradictory?  Contradiction is a term that refers first and
foremost to statements about reality?  Contradictions exist within
or between statements, but what could it possibly mean for
contradictions to exist in the world outside?  We discover that
our assertions about some phenomenon contradict each other.  Then
what do we do?  Are there simple inconsistencies of thought that
can be removed by changing our assertions about reality?  Is there
a deeper logical structure to the phenomenon which would remove
logical contradictions within our complex of assertions?  Or is
there no way, no matter how deep we go into the phenomenon to
attempt come up with a consistent logical argument about it, can
we eliminate the contradictory nature of the concepts we use or
the statements we make?  In this last case, I would say that is
when we have a truly objective dialectical contradiction, at least
as best as humans can grasp reality.  There are paradoxes that are
logically resolvable, there may be others that are not.  In the
case of capitalist society, the contradictions are real as far as
I'm concerned.  In the case of the physical sciences, that would
depend on whether one could logically resolve paradoxes into a
consistent system of concepts.  What about Niels Bohr's principle
of complementarity, Pauli's exclusion principle, the wave-particle
duality?  I'm no expert, but prima facie I see contradictions

What about the paradoxes of motion, which are always brought up?
I have thoughts about that which need to be detailed in a post all
by itself.  I suggest we think about on what level the paradox of
motion is contradictory.  Calculus already resolved this
"contradiction" formally in mathematics (not in the time of
Leibniz and Newton, but in the 19th century).  Nonetheless, on an
informal level, when we think of motion in terms of our
categories, those categories look contradictory.  However, I
suggest that the nature of the contradiction must be looked at
more deeply than how it is usually described.  The contradiction
comes from freezing motion, not from moving something in stasis.
I have some literature on this and I will upload the appropriate
references when I find them.

Are there real contradictions in mathematics, which left behind
popular expositions of dialectical vs. formal logic a century ago?
Well, some real mathematicians do find contradictions in
mathematics, but not where you think they would, eg. the paradox
of motion.  Have you ever heard of "adjoint functors"?  I will
upload a bibliography on this topic too.  I came across a
pertinent article just last night.

My point is, a genuine dialectical contradiction grasped
subjectively would have to reflect something, however indirectly,
about reality too, but first we have to come up with something
that really is contradictory, and that means being careful about
how we define contradiction.  We cannot simply call anything that
involves complementary aspects a dialectical contradiction; we
have to determine what truly is contradictory, on a logical or
categorial level.  Then we can say, that is a truly dialectical
contradiction in objective reality, or, minimally, that becomes a
dialectical contradiction in thought of necessity when we break up
a unitary phenomenon (complex and/or in motion) in order to
analyze it.  Remember, Lenin criticized some of Engels' amateurish
examples, and wrote also: dialectics is the breaking up of an
indivisible phenomenon and the cognition of its contradictory

This is all I have time for, but I hope it helps.

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