Dialectic as method

Chris M. Sciabarra sciabrrc at is2.NYU.EDU
Thu Jun 22 09:54:19 MDT 1995

On Thu, 22 Jun 1995, Hans Despain wrote:

> Also, I am glad to see that there is a little agreement between
> Justin and Chris.  But I am a little concerned that Chris continually
> speaks of dialectic as method, but argues for dialectic as process.
> Once again this is epistemological and ontological dialectics
> respectively.  Thus, I ask Chris what might be his account of
> epistemological dialectics?  I remember our discussion of Ollman's
> *Dialectical Investigations*, us both agreeing that Ollman's account
> does not very well distingish between dialectical method versus other
> methods which uses the art of "abstraction."

	I'll keep this brief, because I realize that this thread has
probably been played out for now.  I think that as a method, dialectics
recognizes context, the context being both structure and process.  In
other words, dialectics demands (epistemologically) that we analyze a
whole in terms of its structure (constituted by internally related parts)
and its process of becoming a structure (its history--which includes its
past, present, and possible future.)  This is an epistemological
orientation that is contextual.  A metaphysical or cosmological or
"strict organic" approach is NOT dialectical.  Strict organicists may
agree with dialecticians that we need to analyze the whole, but like
rationalistic internalists, they believe that we can understand the whole
as a whole as if we had a synoptic vantage point on the totality.  It is
no coincidence that such strict organicists, getting their lead from
Hegel, are often positing a kind of omniscience, or Absolute standpoint
from which to make judgments of the whole.  Dialectics recognizes the
whole, but the whole can only be understood through the abstracted parts
(hence, the crucial need and context for the process of abstraction that
Ollman champions in his book).  This enables us to make judgments about
the totality from the vantage point of any part.  Knowing that the parts
are internally related in some way (which is also an epistemological
commitment) helps us to trace the effects of changes in the parts as they
redound throughout the network of relations, up to and including the
	Hans states further:

> I would further argue that ontological dialectics commitments us an
> ontological connectedness of the world, telling us that "things"
> are related, but I would further argue, seemingly unlike Chris,
> that our (construction of) epistemological dialectics suggest *HOW*
> "things" (categories) are related.
	Here is where I think it gets a little tricky.  Underlying what I
believe to be an epistemological commitment (as outlined above) there is
the belief that the universe has organic wholeness and internal
relations.  I fully admit that this ontology underlies the method. BUT, I
do not believe that the method tells us ANYTHING about HOW things (or
"relations") are related.  This is why I am very open to wild
experimentation in the social and natural sciences on the level of
empirical investigation, since it is only empirical investigation that
can tell us HOW things are related.  There is an inseparable link, no
doubt, between the WHAT and the HOW, but different theorists working in
different traditions that are similarly dialectical in their
methodologies, will have different views of the HOW even though they
agree on the WHAT.  The relationship between the methodological and the
substantive is of paramount importance in deciding whether you favor or
oppose the views of a particular thinker.  One of the biggest problems
that I have had in my early encounters with some Marxists was their arrogant
belief that ONLY Marxism was dialectical.  In essence, I've had to write
two books (the forthcoming Marx-Hayek and Rand volumes) to suggest that
dialectics is the birthright of anyone seeking a fundamentally
multi-dimensional perspective on social reality that is both critical and
revolutionary in its implications.  (Hence, you will find, I hope, that
my presentation of Hayek and Rand shows them to be highly dialectical,
but their understanding of HOW the parts within the totality relate
internally differs from the Marxian view... which is why, despite their
sometimes agreement with leftists, they remain libertarians.)
	Hans concludes:

> Finally, I want to voice my strong agreement with Chris, on his
> comments of dialectical thinking necessaiting dynamic thougt.  I too
> believe the lack there of to be of crisis proportions.  Especially,
> specifically in politics.  To me this is the significance of Ollman's
> *Dialectical Investigations*, whereby I believe his book to have
> potential as a very valuable text to offer students of all
> disciplines.

	Yes, we are in agreement on this.  Thanks for your feedback.

					- Chris
Dr. Chris M. Sciabarra
Visiting Scholar, NYU Department of Politics
INTERNET:  sciabrrc at is2.nyu.edu (NOTE NEW ADDRESS)

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