Dialectics and HOW things are related

Chris M. Sciabarra sciabrrc at is2.NYU.EDU
Thu Jul 13 05:27:38 MDT 1995

On Wed, 12 Jul 1995, HANS DESPAIN wrote:
> It was Chris S. who suggested that dialectics cannot tell us HOW things are
> related, and since Lisa R. brought it up again, I will again take issue with
> this.  Because it is the role of epistemological dialectics in a
> Hegel(ian) or Marx(ian) sense that is meant to tell us HOW things, or
> more specifically, HOW our categories to reconstruct the world are related.
> In a previous post by Juan I. he had briefly summarized a Marxian
> commitment to the LTV, though Juan did not say that his reading is a
> dialectical interpretation, it is easily seen that Marx in
> *Capital* wants to demonstrate HOW the categories (corresponding to
> real referents [things]) are related.  Thus, *if* Marx can be said to be
> employing epistemological dialectics he certainly must have believed that
> dialectical logic is a method to understand HOW categories to reconstruct
> an understanding of capitalism are related.
> I would like to push Chris S. on this issue, for further clairification
> on the intention of his comment.  For if he meant, that dialectics as
> method is fallible, I have no issue with his comment, but if he meant
> that the aim of dialectics as method is not to (re-)construct HOW our
> categories are related, consequently provided us with the notion of
> necessity, I beg to take issue.
	Well, I'll try expanding on some previous comments in this area.
My previous comments basically stated that I believed "dialectics"
referred to a broad method of analysis.  As a "method," (or if you will,
an "epistemic orientation")--dialectics means that the theorist analyze
the whole from the vantage point of its internally-related parts.  The
whole is primary in that it constitutes the parts, even as the parts
constitute it.  Dialectics demands then, that no part should be
abstracted from the whole and reified as a whole unto itself.  Typical
"liberals" and "conservatives" will for instance, analyze a social
problem, say the "drug war" and debate the question of whether or not
more treatment or more enforcement is the answer.  Neither really
questions the nature of the drug war--a result of black market trade of a
prohibited set of narcotics--nor the cultural and social-psychological
roots of the drug problem--the need for some individuals to blank-out
their minds in the face of systemic irrationality, family crisis, social
degeneration, or whatever.  The point is that a genuinely dialectical
theorist would not abstract the question of drugs from the wider social
issues or from the system which both depends upon--and perpetuates--the
proliferation of narcotics as the literal opiate for too many individuals
caught in a hopeless self-destructive situation.

	The reason why I have said that "dialectics" as METHOD will not
tell us about the nature of the relations (or what relations are primary)
is because this question relates more specifically to
the substance of the matter, not the methodological
orientation of the theorist.  Marxists might say that the drug problem is
typical of social degeneration under capitalism, and lay greater emphasis
on the material factors that lead to such degeneration.  Rand argued that
the drug problem was typical of social degeneration in an
"anti-conceptual" culture of statist degeneration.  She focused on the
primacy of epistemic, philosophic and cultural factors which she believed
created a context for individual self-destruction via drugs.  Both
thinkers show a great respect for the totality, for the system, within
which the drug problem manifests itself.  But their understanding of how
the parts of the system are integrated, of what factors are primary,
differs considerably.

	But there's more...
> What makes dialectics revolutionary, as the Young Hegelians very much
> understood, was that dialectics not only help in reconstructing the world in
> thought, but in so doing provides an immanent critique of the subject,
> for it in fact tells us the (Kantian and Hegelian) categorical
> relationship of our categories versus the (Humean and deductive)
> hypothetical relationship of categories.
> Marx's critique of capitalism can be aruged to be categorical because it
> does not depend on a (hyopthetical) or an external standard, but on the
> internal standards of its own claims, based on the categories required to
> make sense of it.
> The best book availible on Marxian epistemological dialectics is Tony
> Smith's *The Logic of Marx's Capital: Replies to Hegelian Criticism*.
> Though this book has be criticized for its "abstract" replies to
> "abstract" Hegelian criticisms it is truely an great book for getting
> general feeling for epistemological dialetics.  And perhaps a more
> accessible introduction to epistemological dialectics is Ollman's
> *Dialectical Investigations*.  Also quite quite useful is Tony Smith's
> *Dialectical Social Thoeries and Its Critics*.
> The nice thing about these books specifically is that they (almost) only
> address epistemological dialectics, with very little comment on ontological
> dialectics.  In others neither spend much ink on the fact that things are
> related, but on HOW and WHY the categories are dialetically related as
> they are argued to be (but at the same time this is the weakness of these
> books, but it makes them very accessible, which is a significant problem
> for learning dialecitical theory).
	You know, maybe Hans and I are talking passed one another!  In
certain contexts, I have referred to the distinction of dialectics and
substance, or method (form) and content as a distinction between HOW and
WHAT.  I recognize that dialectics, in a strictly formal sense, tells us
HOW things are related--internally, critique emerging from within a
context and not external to it, the importance of totality, vantage
point, etc.--and that the content of social theory (or substance of any
particular theory) will tell us WHAT the relations consist of, or WHAT
relations within the whole are primary (e.g., material, cultural, etc.).
Does this help toward bridging any gap here?  Maybe in the past, I've just
used different words here to describe a similar point of view?  Would it
be easier for me to say that dialectics tells us HOW things are related
FORMALLY, but it doesn't tell us specifically of WHAT these relations
consist?  Thus, dialectical materialists understand the internal
relations in a totality (HOW things relate formally), but their emphasis
on materialism or material factors constitutes their understanding of
WHAT these relations consist, the WHAT here, referring to the substance
of their social ontology, namely materialism.  ????

> Also, at issue in a discussion of dialectics is is transcendental
> reasoning and ontology.  Marxian dialecticans have generally been
> successful for providing an *social* ontology (Ollman's *Alienation* for
> example), but have been generally unsuccussful in providing a general
> ontology to apply to natural science (dialecitcal materialism for
> example).  And transcendental philosophy seems to be generally an
> under-rated reasoning technique (Chris S. do you have any comments on
> transcendental philosophy?).
	Not sure what you mean by transcendental philosophy... explain,
since it is widely used by divergent thinkers.
				- Chris
Dr. Chris M. Sciabarra
Visiting Scholar, NYU Department of Politics
INTERNET:  sciabrrc at is2.nyu.edu (NOTE NEW ADDRESS)

     --- from list marxism at lists.village.virginia.edu ---


More information about the Marxism mailing list