Why dialectics?

fellini at keynes.econ.utah.edu fellini at keynes.econ.utah.edu
Fri Feb 24 14:43:35 MST 1995

I really enjoy the stimulating discussion on dialectics. But I still have
problems with the characterization of dialectics. To put simply, my
problem is whether dialectics is just a method which can be used
within the context of any 'system' or 'agenda,' or should we conceive
dialectics as a broader approach including ontology and epistemology, or
the whole 'metaphysics'. So what does dialectics refer to?

Charles Taylor, in his *Hegel and Modern Society* argues that Hegels's
aim or agenda (I can't come up with a better term) is to reach a
synthesis between what he calls "expressivist" theory and Kant's idea of
moral freedom as opposed to natural necessity. This expressivist tendency
(in the late eighteen century Germany) is the source of Romantic
tradition which opposes to French enlightenment idea of human nature.
In this enlightenment view, man is seen as both subject and object of an
objectifying scientific analysis, and this view is utilitarian in its
ethical outlook, atomistic in its social philosophy, and it searched a
sicentific social engineering to reorganize man and society in a way to
reach happiness. Opposed to this, expressivist view argues that man is an
expressive unity rather analogous to that of a work of art, where every
part or aspect only found its proper meaning in relation to all the
others. That is, human life unfolds from some central core --a guiding
theme or inspiration. As regard to society, each culture and within it
each individual as well has its own (Aristotelian) 'form' to realize. The
second strand was Kant's view against objectification of human nature
(again as opposed to French enlightenment view) in the name of moral
freedom, which states that in order to be free, man must be able to
decide against all inclination for the sake of the morally right. In this
respect, Hegel's Spirit, or Geist, is the necassary way to reach this
synthesis: in his system, spirit reaches its self-awareness in man,
through man's reason. Here nature tends to realize spirit, but at the same
time, man as a conscious being tends towards a grasp of nature in which
he will see it as spirit and as one with his own spirit. In this process
man will understand himself not just as individual fragments of the
universe, but rather as the vehicle of cosmic spirit.  The result is
the greatest unity with nature, that is, with the spirit which unfolds
itself in nature and the fullest autonomous self-expression. The two must
come together since man's basic identity is as vehicle of spirit.

This is, according to Taylor, is Hegels' 'agenda'; in this regard,
dialectics is essential to the self-realization of the spirit through
human mind. But then, the question is: what was the 'agenda' of Marx? And
to realize this agenda, how essential was dialectics?

Again for Taylor, at least the young Marx was trying to have a synthesis
between expressivist position and French enlightenment vision of man's
nature in a social engineering setting. But if this is the case, the
problem of dialectics in Marxism is much more complex than a simple
'inversion' or than the crude distinction between 'idealism' and
'materialism'. In regard to Hegel, dialectics cannot be separated from
his system. But in Marxism the tendency is just to take dialectics as a
method, irrespective of the system. But the result of such a strategy
seems to be merely a substitution of Hegel's Spirit with
'matter', 'history' or 'class consciousness' of the proletariat. But
this leaves us with the critique of Colletti: you cannot have dialectics
and 'materialism' at the same time, for dialectics is the necessary
vehicle for the annihilation, or at least 'degradation' of the material.
(Although T. Smit may be right when he is arguing that there is no
annihilation of the material in Hegel, Colletti's critique, of
'dialectical materialism' still holds, for what the dialectical
materialists  did was not make Hegel upside down; theirs was just a
mechanical substitution.) That is, Marxists did not add anything to Hegel.

In this regard, what Bhaskar is doing seems to be what Marx and marxists
have not done, that is, "to save dialectics" from Hegel, for in
Hegel, it seems to me, there is no way to separate the 'rational kernel'
from the 'mystical shell'.

I need your comments, corrections, criticisms. Thank you.



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