dialectics and teleology

fellini at keynes.econ.utah.edu fellini at keynes.econ.utah.edu
Mon Feb 27 12:47:20 MST 1995


Ralph Dumain asks what I mean by "social engineering". It was
identical to Jane Flax's characterization of Marxism. If there is
an 'essential human nature', and if we can know exactly what it
is, then all else is just an engineering problem, to perfect humans
and hence society. But like Guy Yasko, I too believe that

>>>Flax's characterization of Marxism ignores the strain of
anti-Enlightenment  thought in Marxism.<<<

Also, I agree with Dumain in this (with one reservation below):

------------------------Dumain-----------------------------
   >in their account History itself is ultimately rational,
   >purposive, unitary, law governed, and progressive.  In the
   >Marxist view, events in history do not occur randomly; they are
   >connected by and through an underlying, meaningful, and
   >rational structure comprehensible by reason/science.

   This is partially true, and partly a distortion.  Only a
Hegelian would claim history is "rational".  Marxists would deny
that history is "purposive", though some might admit some kind of
telos in human development without being classical teleologists.
History is not deemed to be merely progressive, but dialectically
contradictory, such that civilization and barbarism are
dialectically connected and "progress" together, hence the
necessity of social explosions.  The Marxist view recognizes both
chance and necessity, randomness and structure.
---------------------------------------------------------------

My reservation is the same with Howie Chodos's:

>>>I do not understand the difference between "no pre-given
purposes", which Marxism precludes, and "an implicit telos in
history" which it can endorse?<<<

Neither do I understand the difference. To me, they are exactly
same. In answering this, Dumain writes:

------------------------------Dumain---------------------------
"Pre-given" implies teleology, which implies some form of objective
idealism.  My phrasing "implicit telos" would refer to an inherent
logic of self-realization, not pre-ordained, not of History, but of
real people developing historically.  I wanted to be open-minded
about this latter possibility, not because I think it applies to
Marx, but because it does apply to the Hegelian Marxism of C.L.R.
James
_________________________________________________________________

If Dumain uses the "implicit telos" in the sense that only "real"
people can have purposes, so that only humans can realize their own
purposes, I agree, but I believe this should not be called
"teleology". I think such an argument endorses the idea of
"praxis", the conscious activity of people through which
individuals reproduce and/or transform social structures,
institutions or relations.

But still, I have two problems with such a reasoning. First, we may
still have a kind of "social engineering" approach, in the sense of
the realization of human essence (as the unity of particular and
universal) or the eradication of the contradiction between human
essence and existence. I am not quite sure about the
"perfectibility" of humans, though I am not willing to reject this
altogether. Second, and more importantly, it is possible to
incorporate this kind of reasoning into a teleological (in the
sense of a pre-given purpose of history) setting: the movement of
history is aimed to reach the unity of human essence and existence.
Even one can argue that a "dialectical" reading of history is
teleological, as in Flax's characterization. In this regard, I
think, we should not forget that Hegel's whole system is
teleological and dialectcis is quite essential in realization of
the 'telos'. So, my problem is whether we can rescue dialectics
from a teleological reading. And I suspect that Marxists may not
have been quite successful to do this. Only in this sense I said
that they only substite Hegel's Spirit with "matter", "history" or
"class consciousness". BTW Dumain, I am not endorsing the view that
the scope of Marxism should be restricted to social theory. But I
am not still quite sure if 'replacing "spirit" with matter is
radically different from history or proletarian class
consciousness" within the above framework.

In this regard, I have two comments:

First, what Darwinian theory of evolution (and chaos theory for
that matter) shows that there is no "purpose" in nature. Again,
there is no "progress" from the simplest to the most complex
organisms in nature. Both necessity and chance play important role
in nature. But once you accept these, I do not know why should we
still retain a 'dialectics of nature'. In Marxism, in regard both
to both nature and society, we should get rid of the idea of
rational, progressive and teleological development. If anyone can
do this without dismissing dialectics, then I would be very happy to
hear it. Probably what Bhaskar is doing is similar to this in his
"dialectical critical realism".

Second, as Hans Despain correctly argues, there is a problem in
distinguishing between idealism and materialism in Marxism. I agree
with him in that Marx's position is not a "mater
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