Dialectic as method

Hans Despain DESPAIN at econ.sbs.utah.edu
Tue Jun 20 22:16:43 MDT 1995


The aim of dialectic as method is in response to the empiricist
dichotomies of subject\object, and particular\universal.  The latter
being the Humean "problem of induction."  Chris S. has made the point
that dialectics (should) possess no "metaphysical presumptions about
the essential nature of reality--save a formal commitment to system,
totality, internal relations, and dyanamic process--we can proceed to
examine any and all factors." Or as Tony Smith depicits Hegel's
philosophy: "Philosophy begins with an appropriation of the
fundamental categories underlying the thought of a historical epoch.
Its goal is to reconstruct the intelligibility of the world through
tracing the immanent logical connections amoung these pure thought
determinations" (Smith, "The Debate Regarding Dialectical Logic in
Marx's Economic Writings":290).

Dialecic as method is an organization and structuring of our logic
and re-construction of reality in thought.  A "non- Metaphysical"
dialectical approach, like all others, immediately runs into the
regressive problem.  For the dialectician the way around this is not
to appeal to some external criterion, but to appeal to the argument,
or to the "intrinsic merits" of the (dialectical) system, itself.
Whereby, the grounding of the argument or logic is found within the
presentation of the system itself (Reuten and Williams, 1987:11).

For Hegel dichotomies between subject\object; freedom\necessity;
universal\particular; etc., arise from an "onesidedness" of
understanding.  Hegel's dialectic as method is "an attempt to
construct a categorial framework which successfully balances two
things: (1) competing categorial schemees; (2) to do this by
reconstructing according to a finite set of basic principles the
basic concepts of experience, science, and the history of philosophy"
(Pinkard, "Hegel's Idealism and Hegel's Logic":211).

Terry Pinkard and Tony Smith follow Klaus Hartmann's "non-
Metaphysical" interpretation of Hegel.  Whereby Hegel's foremost
concern is to construct a (dialectical) epistemological method,
which is self-justifing and self-subsuming.  Thus, instead gaining
knowledge by grounding our categories that (re-)describe the world,
in the conditions of experience and observation, Hegel argues that
the "grounding" of a category is demonstrated in "its logical
condition for the determinateness of some other category (this is
apparently what is meant by Hegel's talk of the 'immanent
development' of thought)" (Pinkard, ibid:213).

Thus, to move from one concept or category to another, must follow
the logical relations between the concepts.  Whereby, the movement
between concepts should "be taken as a metaphor for their logical
relations" (Pinkard, ibid:214).  Or metaphorically as a movement from
one "contradiction" to another in a Bhaskarian sense (Bhaskar
1993:37).  Or metaphorically as "negation," whereby, the usage [of]
"contradiction" and "negation" are logical operators for ordering
categories systematically" (Smith, 1990:6). The rules of dialectical
ordering of concepts begins with the more abstract and procedes
towards every more concrete determinations.  Marx's comments on
method in *Grundriesse* illustrates these rules.

Hegel's *Logic* separates his systematic dialectical logic in two
volumes and three books.  In the first volume "objective logic"
functions as a "general ontology, a treatment of the a priori
determinations of being.  Nothing, that is, except a purely
categorial, conceptual analysis has been offered" (Pinkard,
ibid:216).  In volume two, "subjective logic" Hegel attempts to take
account for conceptuality.  In his third book, "Begriff" [The
Concept] Hegel intends to answer the "transcendental question: what
are the logical conditions of the possiblity of thought's having
established the categories that it so far has, i.e., what are the
conditions of the possiblity of thought's comprehending objective
categories?" (Pinkard, ibid:217).

In the "non-Metaphysical" interpreation of Hegel, the "Absolute Idea"
is not a metaphysical entity, but simple preforms a lingustic
function as a metaphor for a "completed" dialectical system.  The
entire structure of Hegel's *Logic* in fact follows the dialectical
rules of a systematic construction of reality.  In a post to follow I
will offer a complete discription of the structure of Hegel's
systematic dialectic.

But for now let me conclude by stating systematic dialectics is a way
to organize our observations, thought and logic about the world in
self-justifing and self-subsuming manner.  The Hegelian and Marxian
dialectic follows a triadic formula to organize our thought.  But as
Bhaskar demonstrates this need not be the case.  Thus, the conceptual
rules of the dialectic are a bit relative, but the (metaphoric)
logical movement between categories is the same for all dialecticians
(meatphysical and non-metaphysical alike, although their assement and
development of particular categories may vary, Hegel's and Marx's
conceptions of the category of "labor" is a glaring example).

The dialectic is a "non-metaphysical" transcendental approach to
knowledge.  It is systematic, self-justifing and self-subsuming.  It
is not necessarily a method which supersedes and subsumes all other
methods, but a translucent attempt to make explicit, which is
implicit in our understanding about the world.  The dialectician is
not the only one that attempts to do this, for example Hilary
Putnam's Internal Realism denies strict dichotomies, but does not
subscribe to dialectics.  And both Logical empiricism and (Popperian)
critical Rationalism are attempts at addressing the justification of
knowledge. This is why Bhaskar's (ontological) immanant critique of
these methods are essential for re-constituting not only dialectics
but also for our understanding and knowledge of about the world.

If the dialectic can be argued to be metaphysical, it is metaphysical
in its optimisism for the potentiality and faith in human reason.
But at the same time this may be its Achilles' heel.  For it may over-
estimate this very potentiality of human reason and understanding,
but at the same time it is our best hope for full human
emanicipation.

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


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