Dialectics and HOW things are related

HANS DESPAIN HANS.DESPAIN at m.cc.utah.edu
Thu Jul 13 10:09:41 MDT 1995


As always, it is a pleasure to discuss with Chris S., and I agree that it
seems we are talking past one another.  Actually, I think that we agree
for the most part, and it seems that my own anxiety on a more precise
defination of dialectics is my Hegelian hangover, which in turn is the
Hegel's hangover from empiricism.

Chris S.'s epistemological dialectics is as vauge as Ollman's, and there
may be good reason for this.  It seems that the point here is that in the
philosophy of science, it is generally held that science should be
committed to epistemological relativism, and the dialectical method is no
exception.  So, again if it is argued that dialectics as method is
relative to the hands (mind) which employs them, I agree.  In this sense
dialectics is as fallible as any other method.

However, as I see it dialectic as method insists that the dialectician face
the categories which her discipline employs and find where it is that the
category fits into the dialectical logic.  The "facing" of categories is
in fact what allows an immanent critique to develop.  The dialectician
faces each category and then must (dialectically) decide the proper
placement of the category, from the most simple abstract to the most
complex concrete.  Ollman's modes of abstraction: extention, level of
generality, vantage point might add something here.

Thus, the first (empirical) step of for the dialectician is to search out
the categories of her subject, she already understands that they are
related, this I take as the WHAT.  This second step is to decide HOW they
are related so to re-construct the object in thought.  If Chris S. is
arguing that this second step is (somewhat) relative, we agree.  That is
if we cannot distingish between our perception of the object and the
object itself (in a Putnamian or Kantian sense), than we cannot know with
any certianty WHAT the real relations (which our categories represent)
consist of.

The job of the dialectician and dialectic method itself, like any other
method is to work with these categories, so to (hopefully) explain
something about the world.  In this sense, dialectics is especially
important to the social sciences, because one must make sense of the
category from many different prespectives.  But at the same time: "The
dialectic, as such, explains nothing, proves nothing, predicts nothing,
and causes nothing to happen.  Rather, dialectics is a way of thinking
that brings into focus the full range of changes and interactions that
occur in the world.  As part of this, it includes how to organize a
reality viewed in this manner for purposes of study and how to present the
results of what one finds to others" (Ollman *Dialectical Investigations*
p. 10).

In this sense its seems that Chris S. and myself would agree, hence, to
bridge any gap, I reform the question: 'what are (or should be) the
methodological rules the dialectician employs'.  Ollman's account suggests
almost a Feyerabendian stance, against for example Hegelian
dialecticians.  Bhaskar commits his dialectic to epistemtic
relativism but certainly employs transcendental reasoning to "face" his
categories.  I contend so did Marx, with a Hegelian hangover.

But we can take this up in another post.  BTW, the above quote from
Ollman also suggests how ceteris paribus clauses (in an empiricist sense)
is very much different from employing the process of abstraction, but
again perhaps another post.

Hans Despain
University of Utah
despain at econ.sbs.utah.edu
hans.despain at m.cc.utah.edu


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